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Americans Strongly Support Trans Rights — In Some Cases

A new public survey reflects Americans' "mixed views" on trans issues, Gallup says, as people said athletes should compete based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. Here, protesters march against a bill restricting transgender girls from sports teams in Pierre, S.D., in March.
A new public survey reflects Americans' "mixed views" on trans issues, Gallup says, as people said athletes should compete based on the sex listed on their birth certificates. Here, protesters march against a bill restricting transgender girls from sports teams in Pierre, S.D., in March.

Americans strongly support trans service members being in the military — even as they say trans athletes should compete in sports according to the sex listed on their birth certificates, according to a new Gallup survey.

In the survey, 66% of respondents said they're in favor of openly transgender men and women serving in the U.S. military. But only 34% said trans athletes should be allowed to compete in sporting events that match their gender identity.

The survey, which was performed earlier this month, reflects Americans' "mixed views" on trans issues, Gallup says. The numbers didn't surprise Imara Jones, a journalist who is the creator of TransLash Media.

"Americans are deferential to the armed forces and have faith that if the armed forces set a standard and if people have met that standard, that people should be allowed to serve," she says.

Sports bans on trans athletes, on the other hand, are "a solution in search of a problem," Jones says, noting the small minority of transgender people in the United States.

More than 30 states have introduced bills that would ban transgender female athletes from participating in girls' and women's school sports, and a handful have approved absolute bans on trans athletes.

Referring to the recently lifted ban that kept transgender people from serving in the military, Jones says, "I think as [people] begin to spend more time on it and focus on it, that we'll see a similar reversal" on sports bans targeting transgender athletes.

"I think that that was one of the issues with the trans military ban," she says, "that this was not an issue that the military brought up, nor service members."

It remains to be seen, Jones says, if people who are still forming their opinions about trans athletes will defer to the authorities in sports. After all, she says, schools and athletic associations were studying these issues for years before they became hot-button topics.

"These organizations have said that trans people should be allowed to compete in sports which match to their gender — that there is no impact, no difference," Jones says.

In recent years, shifts in attitudes about gender and trans rights have been led by younger generations. But the poll found most young people think trans athletes should compete according to the sex listed on their birth certificates.

In the poll, 50% of Americans who are ages 18 to 29 said they have trans friends, relatives or co-workers in their lives — a far higher percentage than any other age group. Respondents were more likely to back trans service members and athletes if they have a trans person in their lives.

Despite that dynamic, 59% of people in the 18-29 age group said trans athletes should compete according to the sex listed on their birth certificates — a percentage that's slightly higher than among the 50-64 age group, of which 58% said the same.

As Gallup puts it, "changes in views on LGBT issues are often driven by generational change, and at the moment, young Americans hold views similar to their elders'."

Many Americans had not considered trans issues until recently. As Jones notes, most people in the U.S. don't have any direct experience with a trans person.

Lots of Americans are figuring out what they think about trans issues — which they maybe had never thought about until a few years ago. What should people be thinking about as they navigate these ideas?

When asked what Americans should do to help them navigate the ideas that are now percolating in our society, Jones says they should start with education.

"You should seek trans resources or voices," she says. "There are so many online, from the Transgender Law Center to The Trevor Project to the Trans Journalists Association. You should learn about the issue first before you make up your mind."

Jones adds, "I think that people come to flip decisions on this because it's not something that they spent a lot of time thinking about."

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