Working with Policymakers
The majority of decisions about sexuality education are made at the local level, so as a supporter of comprehensive sexuality education, you are likely to spend much of your time and focus working with school board members and school district staff. However, federal and state policymakers are integral in shaping requirements and limitations on sexuality education both through legislation and subsequent regulation and guidance.
Therefore, educating legislators is essential in efforts to advance comprehensive sexuality education. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to communicate with your state and federal policymakers. The most common and easiest method of communicating with your legislators is sending them a constituent email.
Meetings with legislators or their staff are also an effective education and advocacy opportunity. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time.
See How to & Sample Letter to Policymakers for more information.
When conducting an office visit to your legislator, she or he will likely have limited time to meet with you. Prepare a clear and concise message beforehand. Be able to back up your position with facts and personal anecdotes. Research their position on the issues and know your allies and opponents. If you are visiting their office with a group of others, decide each person’s role ahead of time. It is helpful to identify a group leader who will kick off the visit and state the goals of the meeting.
Arrive at the office at least 10 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin. Although meeting directly with the legislator is ideal, more often than not a staff person will stand in for him or her. Do not feel slighted if this occurs—this is common and meeting with staff is very important. These individuals have the ear of the legislator, and she or he relies on them as a key resource for decisions.
Bring a Constituent
If for some reason you need to meet with a legislator who does not represent your district, find a constituent to bring along. If it is feasible, allow this person to lead the meeting. Policy makers are always more interested in what a voter in his or her district has to say. It is also helpful if this person can provide a story or anecdote explaining why the elected official should support a certain policy. Always try to demonstrate the connection between your request and the interests of the legislator’s constituency.
Start by identifying yourself. It is important for the legislator or staff member to know exactly whom you represent. A good way to begin the meeting is to express appreciation for past actions in favor of your issue. Stay focused and try to keep the conversation centered on your issue at all times. Never argue with the legislator, the legislative staff, or members of your advocacy group.
Know your goal or “ask” before the meeting—what would you like the legislator to learn or do as a result of the meeting? You may want to bring a menu of ways they can support your cause, depending on where they stand on the issue. Try to secure tangible commitments such as sponsoring a relevant piece of legislation or moving a bill forward.
If you do not know the answer to a question, indicate that you do not have the information but that you will get it to them as soon as possible. Be sure to follow-up with answers to any questions or any information that was requested. Follow-up is as important as the meeting itself and is an excellent opportunity to establish trust and build a relationship with the office.
Be a Resource
Thank the legislator or staff person for his or her time. Repeat your topline goal or your “ask” as appropriate. Leave them with a fact sheet or other materials that concisely summarizes your main points. Include your contact information and establish yourself as a future resource. Offer your business card (if you have one) and request a business card of any staff member with whom you have met.
Send a Thank-You Note
After your meeting, send a brief thank-you note to the legislator and staff members you met. This is an opportunity to reiterate your key points and include any follow-up information and/or materials. It is perfectly acceptable to forward this note via email.