A new survey finds that a majority of Americans don’t support allowing transgender females to compete in women’s sports, though even the pollsters seem to be confused with what “transgender” actually means — at least according to the way they pose the question.
A Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey conducted from Oct. 31-Nov.2, 2019, finds that 51% of American adults oppose allowing transgender students to “participate on the sports teams of the gender they identify with,” as opposed to their biological sex. Only 29% of American adults support allowing trans athletes to compete based on their gender identity while another 20% are unsure.
The results are similar to findings from a June poll finding that 54% of Americans opposing trans athletes playing for sports teams based on their gender identity, and 28% supporting the concept.
But, notably, the wording of the actual wording from Rasmussen only references “letting biological males, for example, play girls’ sports.”
A second follow-up question in the survey states: “Transgender athletes who are biological males are winning at all levels of girls’ and women’s sports these days. Is the addition of biological males to girls’ and women’s sports likely to change those sports for the better or the worse? Or will it have no impact?”
Conservative talking points opposing legislation like the Equality Act or the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by state legislatures often fixate on the idea of allowing transgender females (whom conservatives refer to as “biological males”) to compete in girls’ sports. Looking at the results of Rasmussen’s two surveys, it is easy to conclude why this has become a focus of anti-LGBTQ groups: if you frame the discussion around unfair advantages in sport, which the public opposes, it is easier to kill bills like the Equality Act, even if some of its less controversial provisions, such as protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment or housing, might be more widely supported.
Yet it’s hard to know, just from looking at the poll results, whether respondents fully understand the implications of allowing trans athletes to compete according to their gender identity — specifically in instances where transgender males are involved.
While conservatives are quick to decry the idea of transgender females competing in track and field, for instance, they are silent on transgender males (or “biological females” in conservative-speak) who are often asking to compete against cisgender males, even though they do not have an innate biological or physiological advantage.
The conservative-leaning PAC Campaign for American Principles recently ran ads in the Kentucky governor’s race and in key districts that would help determine which party controlled the Virginia General Assembly in 2019. Those ads focused on two scenarios: one, playing on recent controversies over trans athletes in Connecticut, featuring an instance where a boy defeats a girl in a track meet; and the other, apparently inspired by the story of former Texas high school wrestler Mack Beggs, featuring a boy who is declared the winner of a wrestling match over a girl.
Yet in reality, Beggs had wanted to compete against boys, but was forced to compete against females who were assigned the same gender as him at birth because of the inflexibility of the Texas University Interscholastic League (and the Texas Legislature, which can craft UIL’s policies) and its refusal to grant Beggs an exemption.
Many Texas parents took issue with the idea that Beggs, who was on hormones to assist in his transition, had gained an unfair advantage over cisgender female wrestlers. Yet, for all the attention that has surrounded the whining over the track wins of Connecticut’s Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, it was precisely the idea espoused by anti-trans advocates — forcing people to compete based on their biological sex at birth — that resulted in Beggs being forced to wrestle for the girls’ state championship!
However, Beggs’ situation is an instance where it’s harder to play the “females as victims” card (unless one alters or distorts the facts of the case) or to allege that cisgender male athletes are somehow at a biological disadvantage by the mere presence of transgender males on the field, the track, or the pitch.
In short, it’s clear that the “men competing in women’s sports” trope will continue to be used to argue against bills prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people for the foreseeable future, and, according to Rasmussen, most Americans seem persuaded by that argument. But it’s less clear whether Americans fully comprehend what happens when a transgender male is asking to compete based on their gender identity, and is forced into girls’ sporting events against their will.