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New Poll Finds Opposition to Trans Athletes — But Is It an Outlier?

Athlete lacing up shoes
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

The Gallup survey, where a majority said trans athletes should compete under their gender assigned at birth, may be skewed by anti-trans rhetoric.

A new poll from Gallup shows a majority of respondents saying transgender athletes should compete under their birth gender -- contrary to some other polls and possibly influenced by widespread anti-trans rhetoric.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said trans athletes should play on teams only for the gender they were assigned at birth, while 34 percent said they should be able to compete under their gender identity, with 4 percent having no opinion. Support for the birth gender option was highest among Republicans, with 86 percent, while it had the support of 63 percent of independents. A majority of Democrats favored the gender identity option -- 55 percent.

The findings, from Gallup's Values and Beliefs survey, conducted May 3-18, are at odds with some earlier polls. A poll that Hart Research Associates did for the Human Rights Campaign in March found initially that 38 percent of respondents said trans athletes should be able to compete under their gender identity, 34 percent favored birth gender, and 28 percent had no opinion.

With some additional information and the question framed differently, support for trans people increased greatly. The polling firm informed respondents, "Local schools, state athletic associations, and the NCAA have already implemented policies that ensure a level playing field for all students while also protecting transgender youth." Then it asked if they agree or disagree with the statement "Sports are important in young people's lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them." Seventy-three percent agreed.

Also, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in April found that 67 percent of those surveyed opposed legislation keeping trans athletes from competing under their gender identity, "with no significant party divide," according to NPR.

"Based on years of research by the Human Rights Campaign and the NPR/Marist poll that came out recently, we believe the vast majority of Americans -- including a majority of Republicans -- oppose laws that ban transgender people from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity," HRC Press Secretary Wyatt Ronan told The Advocate Wednesday.

"Putting too much weight on a single poll is inadvisable given the inconsistent public polling on this issue, and much of the opposition here is surface-level and based on a well-funded and deliberate misinformation campaign by opponents of equality. Our research shows that a small amount of information about the issue substantially increases support for transgender people's participation in sports, and people are just now beginning to think about this issue. As was the case in the marriage equality fight and familiarity with same-sex couples, knowing a transgender person goes a long way in helping the public understand the importance of transgender rights and protections. We know we are on the right side of history, a majority of the public already stands with us, and that majority will continue to grow in the months and years to come."

"All kids win and are safer when everyone feels welcome and is accepted for who they are," Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns at GLAAD, noted in an email to The Advocate. "Every major medical organization has issued statements supporting transgender students' access to sports, reaffirming how important it is for their physical well-being as well as social-emotional growth. Trans kids have been under relentless attack by anti-LGBTQ groups and lawmakers who have introduced more than a hundred bills targeting their private health care and participation in school activities. Whether they pass into law or not, trans youth and the general public are hearing negative messages about who belongs and misinformation about a threat that does not exist."

"What people are reacting to here is just an absolute barrage orchestrated by the extremist anti-LGBT groups -- the same ones who, in 2004, caused there to be a bunch of marriage equality losses around the states," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told NBC News.

But there was a reaction to those losses, mostly in the form of state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, and support for marriage equality increased in the next several years. Keisling expressed confidence that will happen with sports participation.

The issue of trans participation in school sports has been debated in numerous state legislatures this year. Supporters of trans-exclusionary bills have framed the matter as "protecting" girls' and women's sports from trans females, who they claim have an inherent and unfair advantage over their cisgender counterparts -- something disputed by scientists and activists. Such bills have been signed into law this year in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and last year in Idaho, where the measure is blocked due to a court challenge. The governor of South Dakota has issued executive orders to the same effect, while the governors of Kansas and North Dakota have vetoed trans-exclusionary sports bills.

On the plus side for trans equality, the Gallup survey found strong support for trans people's right to serve openly in the military. One of President Joe Biden's early acts in office was to lift a ban on their service put in place by Donald Trump. "Views on transgender athlete policies and right to serve openly in the military are slightly influenced by whether respondents personally know a transgender person," Gallup reports. About one in three said they have a trans person in their lives; half of those aged 18-29 did.

"If you look at the younger folks in terms of who knows a trans person, it's really obvious here that we're winning," Keisling told NBC. Of anti-trans views, she added, "Someday they'll be in the dustbin of history."

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