Support for anti-trans laws has increased. But trans people can reverse this by coming out.

transgender, support, survey, anti-discrimination, sports, bathrooms
Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection

A recent survey shows that majorities of Americans are becoming less supportive of transgender-inclusive policies, particularly ones that allow trans people to play on sports teams and use facilities matching their gender identities.

The survey’s results suggest that right-wing attacks on trans rights have eroded public support of trans people. However, the report also suggests that trans people can restore public support by increasing their visibility in the media and their own communities.

Related: The U.S. Census has released data from its first-ever survey of LGBTQ people. It ain’t pretty.

The survey — conducted by The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), an organization that investigates the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy — interviewed 5,415 adults from all 50 states online between August 9 and 30, 2021. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 1.86 percentage points.

Approximately 82 percent of respondents supported laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, jobs, and public accommodations (including 67 percent of Republicans and majorities of all Jewish, Christian, and Mormon Americans). Support for anti-discrimination laws increased with people’s educational levels.

Roughly one-third of all Americans said discrimination against LGBT people has risen over the last year, especially against trans people. Roughly 63 percent of respondents also said they oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Troublingly, over 70 percent of Americans mistakenly believed that LGBTQ discrimination is illegal at the federal level — it isn’t, apart from a recent Supreme Court ruling forbidding anti-LGBTQ job discrimination.

This mistaken belief is all the more concerning considering the recent wave of laws targeting trans people. Even worse, majorities of Americans are starting to support anti-trans legislation.

Roughly 52 percent of survey respondents said they oppose trans boys playing on male high school sports teams, and roughly 61 percent said they oppose trans girls playing on female high school sports teams. The percentages are 9 to 14 percentage points higher, respectively, than when PRRI asked the same questions in 2018. Democrats supported allowing trans people to play on their chosen teams by margins 50 percent higher than Republicans.

About 47 percent of Americans voiced support for laws requiring trans people to use bathrooms matching the gender they were assigned at birth. The percentage is 12 percentage points higher than when PRRI asked the same question in 2016. Support for similarly transphobic bathroom bills went up among all political, religious, and age groups.

Overall, about 55 percent of all Americans said they’d feel uncomfortable if they knew of trans people in their communities. Discomfort seemed to increase based on the age of the respondent. Despite this, 75 percent of all Americans also said they’d be comfortable with a co-worker telling them they were trans, and 55 percent said they’d feel comfortable having a trans child.

The increase of support for transphobic laws is undoubtedly a result of anti-trans legislation from Republicans. The legislation, along with the transphobic sentiments of now-former Republican President Donald Trump, empowered transphobic people to air their unsupportive views on social and mainstream media. The public debate over trans rights has so far seemed to erode the public’s support of trans people.

While this may all sound discouraging, the report’s concluding statistics suggest that trans people can help shift public opinion by acquainting themselves with more cisgender people.

Between 2011 and 2021, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of Americans who know a trans individual (from 11 percent in 2011 to 21 percent in 2021). The survey also showed a 13 percent increase in people who know a gay individual (from 54 percent in 2011 to 67 percent in 2021).

All respondents said they felt more supportive of trans-inclusive policies and trans people in their workplaces, families, and communities if they already knew a trans person. Support for anti-trans law fell by as much as 20 percent when respondents knew a trans person in real life.

Knowing any person who is LGBTQ has a meaningful impact on support for nondiscrimination laws. Among respondents who don’t know any LGBTQ people, 72 percent supported LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. Among respondents who do know an LGBTQ person, 87 percent supported LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws.

In short, Americans feel more supportive of legal protections for queer people if they know a queer person themselves.

Unsurprisingly, white evangelical Protestants were least supportive of all religious groups on LGBTQ people having any civil rights whatsoever.

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