Views on gender identity are increasingly complex, heavily split, study finds

·5 min read

Story at a glance

  • Nearly two-thirds of American adults support laws that would protect transgender people from discrimination, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.

  • Americans are more split when it comes to thinking about gender identity more abstractly, the study found.

  • Large percentages of Americans believe transgender athletes should be barred from sports teams consistent with their gender identity and support opening child abuse investigations into the parents of transgender children, although views on such policies are deeply divided by party.

Attitudes toward transgender people and issues in the U.S. are increasingly divided, new research shows. And while a majority of Americans believe that transgender people are discriminated against and favor the introduction of nondiscrimination laws to protect them, a similarly large share does not think that transgender athletes should be permitted to compete on sports teams consistent with their gender identity and believe it should be illegal to provide gender-affirming health care to a minor.

Roughly 80 percent of American adults believe transgender people face “at least some discrimination” in their day-to-day lives, according to a study published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center in Washington, and nearly two-thirds said they support enacting more laws that would protect transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment and in accessing public spaces.

When gender identity is thought of more abstractly, Americans are much more torn.

About 60 percent of adults believe a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, according to the study, which analyzed responses from more than 10,000 American adults surveyed in May. That’s up from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017.

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But that belief is closely tied with political affiliation, the study found, and Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party are more than four times as likely as Republicans and Republican leaners to say a person’s gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

That finding has played out across the nation this year, and lawmakers in mostly conservative-led states have denied the existence of transgender people and alleged that transgender identities are merely part of a “woke gender ideology” that is being pushed on the nation’s youth by Democrats.

When it comes to issues surrounding gender identity, young people are at the “leading edge of change and acceptance,” according to Pew. Half of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 believe a person’s gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared with about 40 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and roughly 30 percent of adults older than 50.

American adults younger than 30 are also much more likely than older ones to believe that society has “not gone far enough” in accepting people who are transgender.

But a large share of Americans would disagree, according to Pew, and roughly 43 percent of respondents said issues related to transgender and nonbinary people are “changing too quickly.” Another 26 percent said things are not changing quickly enough and 28 percent said the pace of change is “about right.”

Adults older than 65 are the most likely to believe that the nation’s views on transgender people and issues are changing too quickly, according to the study. They’re also much more likely to lean Republican.

Even so, there is widespread support among Americans for state laws or policies that would safeguard protections for transgender and nonbinary people. There is also, however, widespread support for proposals that would limit how transgender people can participate in certain activities and navigate their daily lives.

Legislation barring transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity is favored by more than half of American adults, including 85 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners, according to Pew.

Halfway through the year, more than two dozen states have introduced measures that would require transgender athletes to play on sports teams consistent with their sex assigned at birth. In 10 of those states, those measures have been signed into law.

Since 2020, 18 states have enacted laws designed to limit how transgender people, particularly transgender women and girls, may participate in athletics.

About 46 percent of American adults surveyed by Pew also believe that laws should be enacted making it illegal for health care professionals to provide gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth younger than 18.

Legislation to that effect has been introduced in more than a dozen states this year. In two states — Arizona and Alabama — access to gender-affirming health care for transgender minors has been outlawed. The Arizona law only bars access to gender-affirming surgery for minors, which is not condoned by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society. The enforcement of the Alabama law was partially blocked by a federal judge in May.

A smaller percentage of adults (37 percent) believe the parents of transgender minors should be investigated for child abuse if they allow their children to receive gender-affirming medical care like puberty blockers or hormone therapy. That includes 59 percent of Republican respondents and 17 percent of Democrats.

In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered state agencies to investigate the parents of transgender children in the state, joining the state’s attorney general in equating gender-affirming care for minors with child abuse. A Texas judge earlier this month temporarily blocked some of those investigations from moving forward.

Americans are more evenly split when it comes to measures that would restrict how public school educators address gender identity with their students, with 41 percent in favor of laws that would make it illegal and 38 percent opposed.

In Florida, the Parental Rights in Education law, which has become known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, prevents public school teachers from engaging in classroom instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation. It officially takes effect Friday.

The Pew survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.

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