Despite the advances made by transgender people in visibility, a majority of Americans still refuse to acknowledge trans identity -- and that number is growing, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
The study, Americans' Complex Views on Gender Identity and Transgender Issues, also provides evidence of a deep partisan divide on trans equality, with Democrats showing support for the trans community and Republicans showing hostility.
Pew is a nonpartisan organization and does not advocate for public policy. "We just hope that people will look at all the different components of this package ... and just learn something new," Anna Brown, a Pew research associate and coauthor of the study, tells The Advocate. The study, released Tuesday, is based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults, conducted May 16-22.
"One interesting thing is the share saying gender is determined at birth is up," Brown says. Pew found that 60 percent of respondents say a person's gender is determined by the sex assigned them at birth. That's up from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017. Even though the rise of four percentage points in a year may seem small, it is statistically significant, Brown says.
The numbers vary widely by political affiliation. "Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party are more than four times as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say that a person's gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth (61% vs. 13%)," the study says.
The figures also vary by age. "Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth," the study notes. "This compares with about four-in-ten of those ages 30 to 49 and about a third of those 50 and older." Age was more of a factor among Democrats than among Republicans, Brown says. People on both sides of the question say their views were influenced by their study of science, she adds.
Even with many respondents refusing to acknowledge trans identity, a large percentage say there is discrimination against trans people. About 80 percent say there is at least some discrimination against trans Americans, and 64 percent express support for laws to protect trans people against discrimination in housing, jobs, and public spaces. Again, viewpoints vary by political party, with 80 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners supporting protections against discrimination, but just 48 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners.
Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say society has not gone far enough in trans acceptance. Among all respondents, 38 percent say acceptance has gone too far, 36 percent not far enough, and 23 percent call it about right. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 66 percent say it has gone too far, 10 percent not far enough, and 22 percent about right. For Democrats and those leaning Democratic, the numbers are 15 percent gone too far, 59 percent not far enough, and 24 percent about right.
The study includes several quotes from respondents. From one who thinks acceptance hasn't gone far enough: "There is far too much discrimination, hate, and violence directed toward people who are brave enough to stand up for who they truly are. We, as a country and as a society, need to respect how people want to identify themselves and be kind toward one another, end of story."
From one who thinks it's gone too far: "People now believe everyone should just forget about their birth identity and just go along with what they think they are. God made us all for a reason and if He intended us to pick our gender then there would be no reason to be born with specific male or female parts."
On gender-affirming medical care, 46 percent support making it illegal for health professionals to provide this care to people under 18, with 72 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats in favor. Both Alabama and Arkansas have passed laws to this effect, with the Alabama law carrying criminal penalties. Both laws are at least partially blocked while lawsuits against them proceed.
The question on health care was open-ended, Brown says, not specifying the procedure under consideration. Genital surgery is almost never performed on minors, in accordance with widely accepted medical practices, so gender-affirming care for this group generally consists of the administration of hormones and puberty blockers.
A minority of all respondents -- but a majority of Republicans -- say they think parents who allow their children to receive this care should be investigated for child abuse. That is what has been going on in Texas, where these investigations have been ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott. They are temporarily stopped now while a lawsuit is heard. Thirty-seven percent of respondents overall support such investigations; 59 percent of Republicans are supportive but only 17 percent of Democrats.
On an issue that has come up in many state legislatures, Pew found majority support for restricting trans athletes' participation in sports. Fifty-eight percent of respondents say trans athletes should be required to compete under the gender they were assigned at birth, and again on this issue, there is a deep partisan divide -- 85 percent of Republicans favor such a requirement, versus 37 percent of Democrats. To date, 18 states have enacted laws to this effect.
The study deals with a variety of other issues, including whether schools should teach about gender identity, whether health insurers should be required to cover gender-confirmation procedures, and how Americans feel about the use of a trans person's preferred pronouns. The full study is available here.
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