A new Gallup poll reveals that more Americans are becoming familiar with transgender people, with nearly 1 in 3 Americans overall and half of all adults aged 18-29 saying they have a friend, relative, or colleague who is transgender.
The data is drawn from Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, which surveyed 1,016 adults over age 18, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, from May 3-18. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points, with a 95% confidence level.
Fifty percent, or half, of adults younger than 30 report having a transgender person in their lives, despite transgender people only comprising about 0.6% of the population. However, the percentage of those familiar with trans individuals decreases with age. Only 31% of people aged 30-49 (covering older millennials and Generation X) say they personally know a transgender person, with 24% of people aged 50-64 and 19% of adults over 65 saying the same.
“There’s certainly more openness and awareness among the younger generation when we look at demographic identification. It’s certainly a lot higher among millennials and Gen Z than any other age group. So it doesn’t surprise me that the level among younger people is higher. Part of that could reflect being more open to people who are transgender, as opposed to knowing someone personally. That could kind of creep in there, too, but certainly the age difference is not that surprising,” Jeff Jones, the senior editor of the Gallup Poll, told Metro Weekly in an interview.
Looking at two transgender-related issues that have dominated headlines in recent months, Gallup sought to gauge Americans’ views on transgender military service and transgender participation in sports, resulting in mixed results.
“This poll covers a lot of the big social issues of the day. So abortion, euthanasia and LGBT issues has been a big part of [Gallup’s polling] for many years. So every year we always ask a few standard questions on LGBT issues, including same-sex marriage and just whether people think a lot of things surrounding LGBT are morally acceptable. But we also like to ask them questions about the big policy debates that are occurring in these areas,” Jones said.
“So this year, we wanted to touch on the transgender military service issues, since the policy has changed now, moving from Trump to Biden. It also seems like one of the biggest issues is the transgender sports debate, in terms of whether people should be allowed to play in sports that correspond with their gender identity or basically just requiring them, however they’re born, they have to be on those teams. So certainly we’ve seen legislation in some states and it’s definitely an emerging kind of debate, and one of the new issues in the LGBT rights area. So we wanted to see where the public stood on that issue.”
With regard to military service, 66% of American adults favor allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the U.S. military, a drop from the 71% level of support measured by Gallup last year. 87% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans favor allowing open service, similar to last year’s findings, but support has dropped 12 percentage points among political independents, from 78% to 66%.
Gallup researchers noted that this tracks with past polling showing shifts in public opinion, particularly among political independents, that appear to accompany presidential transition periods. Interestingly, Gallup also notes that the level of support for open military service is similar to the level of support for gay and lesbian service members found in Gallup polls from 2004-2010, prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In terms of age, adults under 50 are more supportive than those over 50, though support for open service has dropped among all age and gender groups, while still maintaining majority levels of support. Seventy-six percent of those aged 18-29 support open service by transgender personnel, while only 57% of those over age 65 support allowing trans people to serve openly. Support for open service among male respondents is only 57%, while support among women hits 74%.
In terms of ideology, 92% of self-identified liberals support open military service, while only 73% of moderates and 42% of conservatives agree.
With respect to sports, a majority of Americans, or 62% overall, say transgender athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their assigned sex at birth, while 34% say they should be able to play on teams that match their gender identity.
Among all party, gender, and age subgroups, only Democrats narrowly express majority support for allowing transgender athletes to play on teams matching their gender identity, with 55% of Democrats supporting the idea, and 41% of Democrats opposing it. All other subgroups oppose such a proposal by nearly 2:1 margins, including across all age categories.
The only other majority support comes from self-identified liberals, 63% of whom support allowing people to play on sports teams according to their gender identity, compared to 34% of moderates and 12% of conservatives.
Ironically, while this is often marketed as a “women’s issue,” more women (43%) are supportive of trans people playing on teams matching their gender identity than men (24%), something that Jones attributed to the ongoing gender gap in politics.
“You just see more of a gender gap these days, with women tending to be more Democratic, and men tending to be more Republican,” he said. “So I think that explains a lot of the gender gap there, the same gender gap you see in Biden’s job approval and other things, just kind of where the genders kind of come down in terms of partisanship.”
Familiarity with transgender individuals appears to slightly influence a person’s views on various transgender issues, making them more likely to support allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military or compete in sports based on their gender identity. That finding is similar to previous Gallup polls finding that Americans who personally know a gay person are more supportive of gay issues or LGBTQ equality, although the link between familiarity with transgender Americans and more supportive views is not as strong as it was with those who knew gay or lesbian Americans.
For instance, 40% of respondents who said they have a transgender friend, family member, or colleague said they supported allowing transgender athletes to play on teams according to their gender identity, compared to 31% of those who don’t personally know a transgender person. Similarly, 74% of those with transgender friends, relatives, or colleagues support allowing transgender people to serve in the military, compared to 62% of those who do not know transgender people.
However, Jones noted, while personal relationships may play a role, there may be other factors influencing opinions on various topics that explain the disparity between the support for transgender military service and competing in sports based on gender identity.
“With military service, that’s something that most people generally support. So you’re already above the majority, among both people who know and don’t know somebody who’s transgender. So when we look at those results, it seems that’s more kind of like a civil rights issue or equal rights issue, similar to the way people think of same-sex marriage today and the way they’ve traditionally thought about gays and lesbians serving in the military,” Jones said.
“On the sports issue, it may not seem like it’s really a civil rights or equal rights issue as much. I think that’s even among Democrats, because only a bare majority of Democrats support allowing people to play on teams that correspond to their current gender identity,” he added. “There could be elements of competitive fairness, in terms of not giving somebody a bigger advantage because maybe they matured as a male but are competing with females. Even if they’ve been female for a while and are possibly taking hormones which might level the field a little bit, that still may not do it enough where people would think it’s fair. So that’s something that probably plays into people’s minds on this issue, other than seeing it as a matter of equal rights.”
Gallup’s findings outstrips the level of support found in a 2017 Harris Interactive poll, commissioned by GLAAD, showing that only about 1 in 5 Americans personally knew a person who was transgender, and matches the 30% measured in a 2016 Pew poll who said they knew a transgender person.
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