California has always been in the forefront of issues concerning all things transgender. The 2019 Gender Recognition Act allows for change of gender by request on all government documentation, such as birth certificates and driver’s licenses. SB107 offers sanctuary to transgender youth fleeing states where transgender-related care, such as puberty blockers, cross-sex-hormones and sex reassignment surgery, are illegal for minors. 

Under California law, shelters are to admit individuals on the basis of gender identity and not sex, and ditto for any other facilities, such as gyms or spas or restrooms, that are single-sex: single-sex means single-gender in California. Furthermore, no documentation of gender identity, such as a driver’s license, is necessary; only an assertion of gender is required.

In California, employer-provided health plans must cover transgender-related care. Still another law allows prisoners to be housed according to gender identity, not sex. There are many other trans-related laws that could be mentioned that California has passed — more than any other state — making the state stand out in this area.

And some municipalities in California have even gone further. San Francisco offers a $1,200 per month guaranteed income to trans individuals for 18 months. The city also provides housing subsidies for them as well. Other cities such as Palm Spring and San Diego have similar initiatives underway.

All of this legislative and policy activity seems to suggest that the majority of Californians are in agreement with the direction their state government is taking on these issues. A new poll, however, seems to suggest that may not actually be the case. A November 2023 poll conducted by Spry Strategies of 1,000 likely California voters, with a margin of error of 3.1%, contains quite a few surprises. 

The sample was stratified to match overall demographic and party affiliation among California voters. So, for example, about 47% of California voters are Democrats, and the sample has 48% Democrats. About 52% of California voters are white, and that percentage was matched in the sample. Age, sex and other characteristics were also matched.

The first question of note was whether the respondent thought sex was binary — that is, male and female only.  Sixty-two percent responded in the affirmative, while only 22% did not believe sex was binary. More than 70% stated that the definition of a woman was someone who was “biologically born female.” And 72% of respondents stated that parents should be notified if their child identified as transgender in school. These are strong majorities.

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Turning to single-sex activities, 59% stated that males who identify as females should not compete in women’s sports, with only 28% saying they should be allowed. Sixty-four percent stated males who identify as females should not be allowed in areas where women are changing or showering, with only 26% saying they should be allowed. Sixty percent stated that males who identify as females should not be housed in women’s prisons (rising to 68% when the perpetrator was convicted of domestic abuse or sexual assault), with 25% stating they should (declining to 16% in case of domestic abuse/sexual assault).

With regard to domestic violence shelters, 61% felt that males who identify as females should not be allowed, with 24% saying they should.  Sixty-three percent opposed all gender-affirming care (puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, surgery) for minors, with 21% saying it should be allowed. Sixty-eight percent thought parents should not lose custody if they fail to affirm their child’s gender (as has been threatened by the state legislature), with only 12% favoring such a course of action.

Across all these survey questions, at least 2-3 times as many California voters rejected demands that biological sex be erased as a matter of law and policy, compared to the number that supported erasure. This is a robust rejection across the board, and a truly stunning result.

Furthermore, a similar survey was conducted among Californian voters three years ago with a slightly smaller sample size, with a margin of error of up to 4%. A comparison of the results shows that the percentage of California voters rejecting the erasure of biological sex has risen significantly in that short time span. Rather than becoming more acceptant, the Californian electorate has become more cautious over time.

For example, in the 2020 survey, 54% of respondents did not want males who identify as female in female changing rooms and showers; in 2023, that had increased to 64%, a jump of 10 percentage points. With regard to prison placement, in 2020 the percentage objecting was 46%; in 2023, it was 60%, a jump of 14 percentage points. For domestic violence shelters, 46% objected; in 2023 it was 61%, a jump of 15 percentage points.

That magnitude of jump, in the space of three years, is stunning. The longer Californians think about it and the more experience they have with the consequences, the less they are on board with the direction their state government is taking.

And despite its reputation as an outlier, on these issues, the Californian electorate is not out of step with the national electorate. A national Pew survey in 2022 found similar percentages opposed to the erasure of biological sex in sports (58% opposed), and asserting that sex is binary (60%), all very much in line with the thinking of Californians today. This survey too found evidence that the rejection of sex erasure was increasing over time, not decreasing.

A reckoning is coming. Whether you call this a democratic reckoning or a reckoning with common sense, candidates should beware. The political pendulum is swinging back more swiftly and with a greater degree of consensus behind it than anyone could have possibly imagined — even in California.

Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her views are her own.