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America’s Growing Support for Transgender Rights
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How Americans View Transgender Issues

Increasing Support for Transgender Rights

More than six in ten (62%) Americans say they have become more supportive toward transgender rights compared to their views five years ago. By contrast, about one-quarter (25%) say their views are more opposed compared to five years ago.

About three-quarters (76%) of Democrats report they have become more supportive of transgender rights in the last five years, compared to 64% of independents and only 47% of Republicans. Notably, increased support crosses ideological divides within the parties. Conservative Republicans (40%) stand out as the only ideological group with less than half reporting increased support for transgender rights.

Though majorities of every age group report increased support for transgender rights over the last five years, young Americans ages 18 to 29 (68%) are more likely than seniors ages 65 and older (56%) to report this shift.

Notably, majorities of every major religious group report becoming more supportive of transgender rights over the last five years, including religiously unaffiliated Americans (69%), Catholics (68%), nonwhite Protestants (60%), and white mainline Protestants (57%). Even among white evangelical Protestants, slightly more than half (52%) report becoming more supportive of transgender rights over the last five years.

Military Service

Despite the Trump administration’s ban on transgender personnel in the U.S. military, more than six in ten (63%) Americans favor allowing transgender people to serve in uniform – a level of support that is unchanged from 2017 (64%).[1]

Compared to two years ago, Republicans are notably more supportive of transgender military service (37% in 2017 vs. 47% today), but support among Democrats has decreased slightly, (83% in 2017 vs. 78% today), although this shift is not statistically significant.[2] Independents (66%) have not changed substantially since 2017 (67%). Support among supporters of President Donald Trump is identical to support among Republicans.

There is broad support across demographic groups for transgender service in the military. More than six in ten nonwhite (68%) and white (61%) Americans favor transgender service in the military. Two in three (67%) women favor allowing transgender people to serve, along with 59% of men. Nearly three in four (73%) Americans living in the West favor transgender military service, compared to lower majority support in other regions: Northeast (63%), South (61%), and Midwest (57%).

Except for white evangelical Protestants, majorities of every major religious group favor allowing transgender people to serve in the military, including the religiously unaffiliated (71%), white mainline Protestants (65%), Catholics (65%), and non-white Protestants (63%). White evangelical Protestants are divided (49% favor vs. 46% oppose).

Bathroom Accommodations

Over the past few years, several so-called “bathroom bills” – legislation that would require transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their sex assigned at birth – have appeared in state legislatures. Americans are divided over the policy (45% favor, 47% oppose).

Overall support for this policy and the intensity of support has been fluid over the last few years. While the combined percentage of those who strongly favor or favor this policy has increased seven percentage points since 2017 (38%), the combined percentage of those who oppose or strongly oppose this policy has dropped by only three percentage points (a change that is not significant). This asymmetrical shift is mostly due to the significant proportion of Americans who say they are unsure what to think about the issue (12% in 2017 and 8% in 2019).

About half (51%) of men support requiring transgender individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth, compared to four in ten (40%) women. Support for this policy has increased among men since 2017 when 41% favored it.

Compared to 2017, backing for the policy is numerically higher across all partisan groups, but none of these differences are statistically significant. Other subgroups that show a significant increase in support over the last two years for requiring transgender individuals to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth include college graduates (from 35% to 45%), white Americans (from 38% to 46%), Midwesterners (39% to 48%), and Southerners (41% to 47%).

White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group in which a majority want transgender individuals to use bathrooms that match their assigned sex at birth. Nearly six in ten (59%) white evangelical Protestants – compared to 50% of Catholics, 47% of nonwhite Protestants, 43% of white mainline Protestants and 34% of the religiously unaffiliated – support this policy. White evangelical Protestants’ support for such a policy is up eleven percentage points from 48% in 2017.

How Comfortable are Americans with Transgender People?

A majority (63%) of Americans say they would be somewhat or very comfortable having a close friend tell them they are transgender. Over half (56%) of Americans report that they would feel somewhat or very comfortable learning that a local elementary school teacher is transgender. Less than half (48%) would feel somewhat or very comfortable with having their own child tell them they are transgender.

Having a Transgender Friend

Almost three-quarters (73%) of Democrats report being somewhat or very comfortable with a close friend telling them they are transgender, compared to just over half (52%) of Republicans. The views of independents (64%) closely align with the public overall.

Women (68%) are more likely than men (57%) to feel somewhat or very comfortable with having a close friend who is transgender. Americans who have completed college (70%) are more likely than those who have not (59%) to say they would be comfortable with a close friend coming out as transgender.

Majorities across all age groups say they would feel very or somewhat comfortable with a close friend who is transgender. There are no major differences across different age groups on this issue.

Majorities across Christian groups report that they would feel somewhat or very comfortable with a close friend who is transgender: Catholics (62%), nonwhite Protestants (62%), white mainline Protestants (60%), and white evangelical Protestants (55%). A larger majority of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated (72%) would feel comfortable with a friend letting them know they are transgender.

Transgender Teacher

A majority (56%) of Americans say they would be somewhat or very comfortable with a transgender teacher in a local elementary school. Almost seven in ten (68%) Democrats report being comfortable learning that a local elementary school teacher is transgender, compared to 56% of independents and just four in ten (41%) Republicans.

There are no significant gender or age gaps in the proportion who say they would be comfortable learning that a local elementary school teacher is transgender. The education gap is wide, however, with 64% of college-educated Americans somewhat or very comfortable with learning that a local elementary school who is transgender, compared to 51% of Americans without college degrees who feel that way.

Religiously unaffiliated Americans (67%) are the most likely among religious groups to report feeling comfortable learning that a local elementary school teacher is transgender, and almost as many Catholics (61%) agree. Slimmer majorities of white mainline Protestants (52%) and nonwhite Protestants (51%) would feel comfortable with a transgender teacher, but among white evangelical Protestants that figure drops to 42%.

Having a Transgender Child

Americans are evenly divided on how comfortable they would be with having their own child tell them they are transgender: 48% say they would be somewhat or very comfortable with this, while the same percentage says they would feel uncomfortable. Six in ten (60%) Democrats report they would be comfortable if their child told them they are transgender, compared to half of (50%) independents, and just one in three (33%) Republicans.

A slim majority (52%) of women say they would feel somewhat or very comfortable if their child came out as transgender, compared to 44% of men.

Again, there is a notable education divide: 54% of Americans who completed college degree report feeling somewhat or very comfortable with having a transgender child, compared to 46% of those without college degrees.

Across major religious groups in the U.S., the religiously unaffiliated (56%), Catholics (53%), and white mainline Protestants (48%) are the most likely to report feeling very or somewhat comfortable with a transgender child, compared to lower numbers among nonwhite Protestants (40%) and white evangelical Protestants (38%).

Transgender Stigma

More than three-quarters (79%) of Americans believe that transgender people face at least some stigma in their community, including just under four in ten (38%) Americans who believe transgender people face a lot of it. Seventeen percent of Americans think that transgender individuals face no stigma within their community. Nearly three in four (74%) Americans think lesbian and gay people face at least some stigma in their community, and 70% think the same for bisexual people.

More than four in five Democrats (86%) agree that transgender people face at least a little stigma in their community. Three-fourths of Republicans (75%) and independents (75%) agree, but independents (41%) are more likely than Republicans (30%) to say transgender individuals face a lot of stigma.

Comparable numbers of women (79%) and men (78%) say transgender people face at least a little stigma in their community, but there is a divide on the degree of it. About four in ten (42%) women believe that transgender people face a lot of stigma, compared to just one-third (33%) of men.

Younger Americans ages 18-29 (85%) are more likely than Americans ages 65 and older (75%) to say transgender people face at least some stigma in their community. But notably, young Americans are nearly twice as likely as seniors to believe transgender people face a lot of stigma (50% vs. 27%).

No significant differences exist between white and nonwhite Americans on perceptions of the stigma transgender people experience; over three-quarters (81% and 77%) of both groups believe that transgender people face at least some stigma in their community.

Interestingly, there are few differences among religious affiliations. Large majorities of the religiously unaffiliated (84%), white mainline Protestants (81%), Catholics (78%), nonwhite Protestants (76%), and white evangelical Protestants (73%) agree that transgender people face at least a little stigma in their community. The difference between the religiously unaffiliated and white evangelical Protestants is statistically significant, but other differences are not.

Beliefs about Gender Identity and Relationships with Transgender People

Beliefs About Gender Identity

Just over half (55%) of Americans believe there are only two genders, including 43% who say they feel strongly about this. Four in ten (40%) Americans believe that there is a range of possible gender identities, including nearly one-quarter (24%) who say they feel strongly about this.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Republicans believe that gender is strictly binary, including 62% who strongly agree, compared to 50% of independents and 45% of Democrats. A majority (52%) of Democrats believe there is a range of possible gender identities, including 30% who say they feel strongly about this.

Men are more likely than women to say only two genders exist (60% vs. 52%), including nearly half (48%) of men who feel strongly this way, compared to 39% of women. Americans without a college degree are more likely than college graduates to believe that gender is binary (58% vs. 51%).

Opinions on public bathroom laws are correlated to views about whether gender is seen as binary or on a spectrum. A majority (55%) of Americans who believe that gender is binary, compared to less than one third (32%) of those who believe there is a range of gender identities, favor laws that require transgender individuals to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth rather than their current gender identity.

Compared with those who believe in a gender spectrum, Americans who believe there are only two genders are much less likely to say they would be comfortable having a close friend tell them they are transgender (52% vs. 79%); learn that a teacher in their local elementary school is transgender (43% vs. 72%); or learn that their own child is transgender (34% vs. 68%)

Personal Relationships

Americans are significantly less likely to have close connections with transgender people than with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. Less than one-quarter (24%) of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is transgender, compared to 46% who report having a bisexual close friend or family member, and nearly seven in ten (68%) who report having a gay or lesbian close friend or family member. Notably, the proportion of Americans who say they have a close friend or family member who is transgender has more than doubled since 2011 (11%).

These rates of having a close friend or family member who is transgender do not differ substantially by gender, educational attainment, or religious tradition. Younger Americans ages 18 to 29 (29%) are more likely than seniors ages 65 and older (18%) to report having a transgender close friend or family member.

The division widens slightly with political affiliation. Democrats (29%) are significantly more likely than Republicans (18%) to report having a friend or family member who is transgender. Independents (25%) closely mirror Americans in general.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who have a relationship with a transgender individual tend to have broader views of gender identity. Among those who have a close friend or family member who is transgender, 54% believe there is a range of possible gender identities. In contrast, just over one-third (35%) of those who do not know someone who is transgender believe there is a range of possible gender identities.

Americans who report having a close friend or family member who is transgender are more likely than those who do not or are unsure to say they would be comfortable with a friend disclosing to them that they are transgender (81% vs. 57%), learning that a local elementary school teacher is transgender (73% vs. 50%), and having their own child tell them they are transgender (66% vs. 43%).

LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections and Religiously Based Refusals to Serve Gay and Lesbian People

Nondiscrimination Protections

Seven in ten (71%) Americans favor laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. Support for these protections has remained steady over the past few years, with around seven in ten Americans reporting that they favor nondiscrimination provisions for LGBT people in 2018 (69%), 2017 (70%), 2016 (72%), and 2015 (71%).[3]

Religiously based Service Refusals

Over the last few years, the issue of religious exemptions to nondiscrimination protections laws have been at the center of policy debates. The current survey finds majorities of Americans consistently oppose religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people across a range of public actors and institutions: by small business owners (57%), licensed professionals (67%), adoption agencies (60%), and companies providing wedding services (55%).

Small Business Owners

Almost six in ten (57%) Americans – including majorities of a wide range of demographics subgroups – oppose allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Majorities of both Democrats (73%) and independents (58%), compared to only 39% of Republicans, oppose the idea. Majorities of both men and women oppose it, but women (62%) are more likely than men (52%) to take that position. Meanwhile, young people ages 18-29 (68%) are more likely than seniors (53%) to oppose religiously based service refusals.

With the lone exception of white evangelical Protestants, majorities of every major religious group oppose allowing religiously based service refusals for small businesses, including the religiously unaffiliated (64%), nonwhite Protestants (62%), Catholics (60%), and white mainline Protestants (52%). Among white evangelical Protestants, 54% believe a small business owner in their state should be allowed to opt out of doing business with gay or lesbian people on religious grounds, compared to only 44% who oppose.

Licensed Professionals

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) are opposed to allowing licensed professionals like doctors, lawyers, teachers, and social workers deny services to gay or lesbian people on religious grounds. Majorities of every major subgroup across gender, age, party, and religion agree.

Almost eight in ten (78%) Democrats oppose religiously based service refusals from licensed professionals, compared to 68% of independents and 56% of Republicans. Women (71%) are more likely than men (63%) to reject religiously based service refusals among licensed professionals, as are young people (71%) when compared to seniors (61%).

The religiously unaffiliated (72%) are most likely to oppose professional religiously based service refusals, followed by about two in three nonwhite Protestants (67%), Catholics (67%), and white mainline Protestants (66%). Just under six in ten (58%) white evangelical Protestants oppose this type of service refusal, the lowest of the major religious affiliations.

Adoption Agencies

Six in ten (60%) Americans oppose allowing religiously affiliated agencies that receive federal funding to refuse to place children with qualified gay and lesbian couples based on religious objections. Majorities of Americans across political parties, gender, education, race, and religion agree.

Almost seven in ten (69%) Democrats oppose this policy compared to less than six in ten of independents (59%) and Republicans (56%).

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of women, compared to 56% of men, oppose adoption agencies to refusing service to gay and lesbian couples based on religious objections. White Americans (63%) are more likely than nonwhite Americans (55%) to oppose this policy.  More than six in ten of the religiously unaffiliated (65%), Catholics (63%), white mainline Protestants (61%), and white evangelical Protestants (59%) oppose this policy. Nonwhite Protestants (51%) are least likely to oppose allowing adoption agencies to refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples.

Wedding Service Providers

A majority (55%) of Americans oppose allowing business owners who provide wedding services, such as caterers, florists, and wedding-cake bakers, to legally refuse service to gay or lesbian people based on religious beliefs. This is a notable increase since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that right of refusal in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission; just after that ruling, 48% opposed the policy. Levels of opposition today are similar to 2017 (53%).

Strong majorities of independents (59%) and Democrats (70%), compared to only 36% of Republicans, oppose allowing wedding service providers to refuse services to gay or lesbian people because it violates their religious beliefs. By contrast, 60% of Republicans favor this policy. Notably, opposition to this policy among Republicans has increased eight percentage points since 2017, up from 28%.

At least half of Americans oppose religiously based service refusals for wedding service companies across all gender, education, race, and age categories, but there are some notable differences. Interestingly, Americans with a high school degree or less (60%) are more likely to oppose wedding businesses engaging in religiously based service refusals than college graduates (50%). Nonwhite (61%) Americans are also more likely to oppose the practice than white Americans (53%).

With the lone exception of white evangelical Protestants, majorities of every other major religious group oppose allowing wedding vendors to refuse services to gay and lesbian people based on their religious beliefs, including the religiously unaffiliated (69%), nonwhite Protestants (54%), and white mainline Protestants (51%). Among white evangelical Protestants, only 39% oppose this policy, compared to 59% who favor it. Since 2017, white evangelical Protestants have increased their opposition to this practice (29% to 39%), while Catholics have decreased (63% to 55%).

Knowledge of Current Federal Nondiscrimination Laws for LGBT People

There are currently no federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans. Nevertheless, large majorities of Americans erroneously believe that it is illegal at the federal level for a doctor or health care professional to refuse treatment (79%), for a business to fire or deny someone a job (67%), for a property owner to refuse to rent a house or apartment (60%), or for a business owner to refuse to provide products or services (55%) because the individual is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Knowledge of whether these individual items are legal does not differ by political party, with the exception of medical treatment. Democrats (81%) and independents (82%) are more likely than Republicans (74%) to believe doctors or health care professionals cannot refuse to treat LGBT people.

The proportion of Americans who correctly know that there are no federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace has doubled over the last three years (14% in 2016 vs. 28% today).[4]

Nondiscrimination Knowledge Scale

Taken together, these issues indicate a composite level of knowledge about federal LGBT protections: Laws against discrimination in medical treatment, in the workplace, in housing, and in business transactions. Four in ten (40%) Americans incorrectly believe that all of these protections exist, and another 56% incorrectly believe that some of these protections exist, while just 4% correctly recognize that none of these protections are in place at the federal level. Knowing whether these federal protections are codified in law does not differ significantly across different political parties, race or ethnicity, gender, or major religious groups, but there are differences by age. Twenty-eight percent of young Americans (ages 18-29), compared to 42% of seniors (ages 65+), incorrectly say all of these protections are in place at the federal level for LGBT people.

Knowledge of Religious Liberty Protections for Religious Organizations

A slim majority (51%) of Americans correctly say it is legal under federal law for a church or religious organization to refuse to perform a wedding for an LGBT couple, while nearly four in ten (38%) mistakenly believe this is not legal under federal law.

There are no differences in answers to this question by party, gender, or age. However, those with a college degree (61%) are more likely than those who only have some college education (49%) or no more than a high school diploma (44%) to answer correctly. Nonwhite Americans (44%) are less likely than white Americans (55%) to know religious organizations can legally refuse to perform weddings for LGBT couples. Southerners (46%) are also less likely than those living in the Midwest (56%) to think this practice is legally protected.

There are few knowledge differences on this issue across religious groups, with around half of most major religious groups answering correctly. One notable exception are Catholics, among whom only 43% know that churches are able to refuse to perform weddings for LGBT couples, compared to 46% who incorrectly say it is illegal.

Consumer Support or Opposition to Companies over LGBT Issues

Only 17% of Americans report making a decision to buy or bypass a certain product or service because of the company’s views on LGBT rights.

About one in five Democrats (20%) and Republicans (17%) report making a consumer decision based on the company’s record on LGBT issues. Only 13% of independents say the same.

One in five (20%) young Americans (ages 18-29), compared to only 11% of seniors, state that they have used their purchasing power to support a company that shared their views of LGBT rights.

Twenty-three percent of those with college degrees say they have made a purchasing decision based on the company’s views on LGBT rights, compared to just 14% of those without college degrees. There are no notable differences by gender or race.

Americans who support and oppose LGBT nondiscrimination laws are equally as likely to report they have made purchasing decisions based on a company’s stance on LGBT rights. Of those who support LGBT nondiscrimination laws, 17% have made a purchasing decision based on the company’s views on LGBT rights, while 18% of those who oppose LGBT nondiscrimination laws report having done the same.

Survey Methodology

The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI. The survey was made possible by generous grants from the Arcus Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between April 9 and April 20, 2019, by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,100 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (668 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The survey also over-sampled those living in Texas (150). The selection of respondents within households was accomplished by randomly requesting to speak with the youngest adult male or female currently living in the household.

Data collection is based on stratified, single-stage, random-digit-dialing (RDD) sample of landline telephone households and randomly generated cell phone numbers. The sample is designed to represent the total U.S. adult population and includes respondents from all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. The landline and cell phone samples are provided by Marketing Systems Group.

This SSRS Omnibus insert was weighted to provide nationally representative and projectable estimates of the adult population 18 years of age and older as well as the adult population in Texas. The weighting process took into account the disproportionate probabilities of household and respondent selection due to the number of separate telephone landlines and cellphones answered by respondents and their households, as well as the probability associated with the random selection of an individual household member. Following the application of the above weights, the sample was post-stratified and balanced by key demographics such as age, race, sex, region, and education. The sample was also weighted to reflect the distribution of phone usage in the general population, meaning the proportion of those who are cell phone only, landline only, and mixed users.

With the base-weight applied, the sample underwent the process of iterative proportional fitting (IPF), in which the sample was balanced to match known adult-population parameters based on the most recent March Supplement of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS)[5]. This process of weighting was repeated until the root mean square error for the differences between the sample and the population parameters was 0 or near-zero. Two raking groups were used to account for the National and the oversample of Texas.

The National population parameters used for post-stratification are: Age (18-29; 30-49; 50-64; 65+) by Gender, Census region (Northeast, North-Central, South, West) by Gender, Education (less than high school, high school graduate, some college, four-year college or more), Race/ethnicity (white non-Hispanic; Black non-Hispanic; Hispanic and born in the U.S.; Hispanic and born outside of the U.S.[6]; Other non-Hispanic), Marital status (married/not married), Population density (divided into quintiles) and Phone-usage (cell phone only, landline only, both).

The Texas parameters used for post-stratification are: Age (TX 18-29; TX 30-49; TX 50-64; TX 65+), Gender (TX Male; TX Female), Education (TX less than high school, TX high school graduate, TX some college, TX four-year college or more), Race/Ethnicity (TX white non-Hispanic; TX Black non-Hispanic; TX Hispanic and born in the U.S.; TX Hispanic and born outside of the U.S.; TX Other non-Hispanic), and Phone-usage (TX cell phone only; TX landline only; TX both).

The sample weighting is accomplished using an iterative proportional fitting (IFP) process that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables. Weights were trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the demographic characteristics of the sample closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the target populations.

The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.39. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question-wording, context and order effects.


Endnotes

[1] PRRI August 2017 Survey.
[2] Measures for statistical significance in this report were conducted at the 95% confidence interval using the sample sizes for the subgroup being analyzed and include the design effect for the survey.
[3] PRRI American Values Atlas, 2015 and 2017. All references to 2015 and 2017 data in this report refer to these datasets. PRRI 2016 August Survey. For an in-depth, 50-state analysis of American attitudes on nondiscrimination protections and religiously-based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people, see PRRI’s report “Fifty Years After Stonewall: Widespread Support for LGBT Issues – Findings from American Values Atlas 2018”https://www.prri.org/research/fifty-years-after-stonewall-widespread-support-for-lgbt-issues-findings-from-american-values-atlas-2018/.
[4] Source: PRRI August 2016 Survey.
[5] Sarah Flood, Miriam King, Renae Rodgers, Steven Ruggles, and J. Robert Warren. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 6.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS, 2018. https://doi.org/10.18128/D030.V6.0
[6] Since this is meant to address the percent of Spanish speakers in the weighted sample, respondents born in Puerto Rico are included with those born outside of the U.S.

Recommended citation:

Robert P. Jones, Natalie Jackson, Maxine Najle, Oyindamola Bola, and Daniel Greenberg. “America’s Growing Support for Transgender Rights.” PRRI (June 10, 2019). https://www.prri.org/research/americas-growing-support-for-transgender-rights.