The transgender flag is seen during the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, 2022 in New York City. Credit - Noam Galai—Getty Images
Most Americans are in favor of policies that protect people who identify as transgender from discrimination. Most Americans also believe that trans individuals should be allowed to use the bathroom that reflects their gender identity. But a growing majority of Americans believe that whether a person is a man or woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, according to a new survey.
Attitudes towards gender are at a curious crossroads. Essentially, at the same time that most Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center support a range of policies to protect the rights of trans people, a full 60% do not believe that a person’s gender can be different from their sex assigned at birth, according to the May 2022 poll of 10,188 U.S. adults. And that opinion is growing in popularity, up from 56% when the same question was asked in a survey last year.
The authors of the study at Pew, a non-partisan, non-advocacy polling and social science research firm, say that the increase in the number of people who believe gender is the same as sex given at birth was not led by any particular group. “Certainly Republicans are more likely to say that than Democrats,” says Anna Brown, a research associate at Pew and one of the co-authors of the study. “But it’s increased among both Republicans and Democrats.” The respondents more likely to believe that gender and sex were indivisible included those older than 50, and those with a high school education or less. When broken down by race, Black respondents were also more likely than other races to agree that gender and sex were the same.
However, even among those who hold that view, there’s a diversity of opinion about what rights transgender people should be accorded. “There’s a lot of different nuanced views within that group,” says Brown. “Half of adults in this group say they would favor laws that would protect trans people from discrimination. About one in four say forms and online profiles should include options other than male or female.”
The report suggests that America’s views about policies that affect trans people are also complex. More than half of the respondents support rules that require trans athletes to compete on teams that align with the sex they were assigned at birth. But a majority also believe public elementary schools should be allowed to teach lessons about gender identity. Nearly half of American adults say it’s important to use the new name of a person who has transitioned but only about a third say the same about using their new pronouns.
The study also suggests that public opinion on trans rights may be becoming less progressive—at least for the moment. “The share [of people] saying that society has gone too far in accepting trans people has grown since 2017,” notes Brown. On the other hand, young people are more likely believe gender and sex at birth are not intrinsically linked; half of those under 30 hold this view. “Adults aged 65 and older are the most likely to say that views on these issues are changing too quickly,” says Brown, “while those younger than 30 are the most willing to say they’re actually not changing quickly enough.” Younger Democrats are more accepting of a range of gender identities than older Democrats, but age makes less difference among Republicans.
There was some unity in the opinions, however. Both groups, no matter what they believed about the link between the sex they were assigned at birth and gender, said the most important factor influencing their views was science.