Facebook Twitter

Poll shows Americans’ views of transgender policy are growing ever-more complex

Most Americans believe transgender athletes should compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth, Pew found

SHARE Poll shows Americans’ views of transgender policy are growing ever-more complex

West High School students protest the Utah Legislature’s passage of HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Americans have complex and sometimes contradictory feelings about transgender rights and gender identity, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.

Among 10,188 U.S. adults questioned as part of its American Trends panel, Pew found most favor laws to prevent discrimination against individuals who are transgender in jobs, housing and public spaces like restaurants and stores. But 6 in 10 also say that a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth — up from 56% in 2021 and 54% in 2017.

Additionally, the majority of U.S. adults (58%) believe transgender athletes should compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth.

The new report is the second in a series by Pew Research Center. The first report, published in early June, found that 1 in 20 young adults describe themselves as transgender or nonbinary, as the Deseret News reported.

The new report found U.S. adults do not agree how accepting society should be of those who are transgender: 38% say society has gone too far in being accepting, while a nearly identical 36% said society has to go further in accepting transgender individuals. Roughly 1 in 4 say the acceptance level is about right.

Those numbers underscore “the public’s ambivalence around these issues, even among those who see at least some discrimination against trans people,” according to the report’s authors: Kim Parker, director of social trends research; Juliana Horowitz, associate director; and Anna Brown, a Pew research associate who was the study’s lead researcher.

Brown said Pew is a nonpartisan fact tank with a mission “to inform the public about the trends shaping our society today. With this survey, we felt we had a unique opportunity to provide objective data on a topic that a lot of different segments of society are talking about right now.”

Party and age

There are differences in views based on age. Brown said adults ages 65 and older are the most likely to say that views on transgender issues are changing too fast. Those younger than 30 are the most likely to say they’re not changing fast enough.

Political ideology also seemed to influence people’s responses. In the survey, Pew divided respondents into two groups: those who lean toward the Democratic Party or are Democrats and those who lean toward the Republican Party or are Republicans. Independents were sorted into one or the other based on their views.

The survey showed Democrats are about four times more likely than Republicans to say gender can be different than that assigned a birth, at 61% compared to 13%. Meanwhile, half of the adults younger than 30 say gender can be different from the sex assigned at birth, compared to 40% of those ages 30 to 49 and a third of those 50 and older.

Among Democrats and Republicans who say gender is determined by sex at birth, there is considerable difference on issues. Twice as many Democrats in that group say transgender people face a fair amount of discrimination. While 62% of them say they favor policies that protect individuals who are transgender against discrimination, fewer than half of Republicans in that group say that.

“I think it’s really interesting that there are party differences even in that group of people who say a person’s gender is determined by their sex at birth. In that group, a majority of Democrats say there’s at least a fair amount of discrimination against trans people today, but just 31% of Republicans in that group say the same,” Brown said.

Brown told the Deseret News that policy questions were especially interesting because no majority views emerged on most of them.

There were “tilts,” though — as in public opinion tilting toward making it illegal for health care professionals to provide medical care for a minor seeking gender transition, and for requiring people who are transgender to use the public bathrooms matching the sex they were assigned at birth, said Brown.

Meanwhile, opinion was “totally divided” on questions about gender identity and what children could be taught in grade school, as well as on arresting parents for child abuse if they assisted in the gender transition of a minor child. On the latter, the numbers opposed and in favor were nearly identical.

The survey said 46% favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide someone younger than 18 with medical care for a gender transition (31% oppose). The public is more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (41% favor and 38% oppose) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 get medical care for a gender transition (37% favor and 36% oppose). Views on these policies are deeply divided by political leaning.

Brown also noted that “a pretty large share of both the people who say gender is determined by one’s assigned sex at birth and those who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth say what they’ve learned from science has influenced their views on the topic at least a fair amount.“ 

Other findings

While the report didn’t really focus on race, Brown said it was interesting looking at legal and policy questions through that lens.

“Overall, white adults tended to be more likely than Black, Hispanic and Asian adults to say they supported policies that would restrict the rights of trans people or limit what schools can teach about gender identity,” Brown said. But among Democrats, “white adults are actually less likely than the other groups to favor those types of laws, especially compared with Black and Hispanic people.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • 47% say it is “extremely” or “very” important to use a person’s new name if they change their names as part of of transitioning from the sex assigned at birth.
  • About a third say it’s important to use a transgender person’s new pronouns, such as “he” instead of “she.” There are wide partisan differences, though.
  • 44% say online forms and profiles that ask about gender should provide options in addition to “male” and “female” for those who identify as nonbinary. And 38% say passports and other government documents should provide more than two gender options.
  • Nearly 30% of parents with school-age students say one or more of their children has learned about people who are transgender or nonbinary from a teacher or other adult at school. The parents’ reaction to that varies by party and by the child’s age.
  • Close to two-thirds said they have not been following closely proposed state laws that would address issues that would impact individuals who are transgender. 

 In addition to the report, Pew has published a Q&A with Brown and findings from focus groups where individuals told their own experiences being transgender or nonbinary.