A poll released Wednesday raises serious questions about where the country stands on transgender equality.
According to Gallup, which provides some of the only data on LGBTQ+ populations, the majority of Americans oppose transgender participation in sports.
Just 34 percent of those surveyed said they supported trans athletes playing on teams that aligned with their “gender identity,” while 62 percent said they felt transgender people should have to compete on teams with athletes of their “birth gender.”
The poll runs counter to a study released in March by Hart Research Associates and the LGBTQ+ organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which found that 73 percent of people — including 56 percent of Republicans — believe that trans kids should be allowed to play on the team on which they feel comfortable.
The polls come as states across the nation weigh bills that would prevent transgender kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender. (PBS NewsHour also found in April that Americans overwhelmingly oppose bills limiting trans kids from participating in sports.) Eight states have passed athletic bans on trans youth in just two years, and at least 30 states have considered anti-trans bills.
Advocates have held up previous polls as proof that Republican lawmakers are pushing anti-trans legislation without the support of their constituents, and a number of polls have suggested that, even among Republicans, support for LGBTQ+ equality is growing. Last year the Human Rights Campaign found that Trump voters in swing states largely supported LGBTQ+ rights.
Jeff Jones, a senior editor of the Gallup poll, says the disparity between the polls can be explained by the language of the questions.
“I think it really comes down to a lot of it is question wording, how the issue is framed,” Jones said. “Especially since this is kind of a newer issue, people haven’t really thought about it that much, so they might be especially susceptible to answering based on minor cues.”
The Hart Research Associates poll from March backs Jones’ theory. When first asked, just 38 percent of respondents said they supported allowing kids to play on sports teams consistent with their gender identities, and 28 percent were undecided.
Researchers, however, told participants that “local schools, state athletic associations, and the NCAA have already implemented policies” to ensure fair play and allow trans kids to compete. Then, they asked the question again: Nearly two-thirds supported trans inclusion.
Some of the Gallup poll’s results showed a decrease in support for transgender rights. Over the past two years, support for transgender inclusion in the military has waned, Gallup found. While 66 percent support transgender troops, that number is down from 71 percent in 2019, the same year that former President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban took effect.
Jones said the dip could be a reaction from independents to the reinstatement of transgender troops under the Biden administration; while 78 percent of independents supported inclusion in 2019, that number has since dropped to just 66 percent. Republicans have remained steady at 43 percent supporting inclusion, and Democrats have slipped slightly from 88 percent backing to 87 percent.
Jones also said that it is possible that the historic number of anti-transgender bills pending in state legislatures could be driving public opinion on transgender rights.
Research has suggested that the more people know about queer people, they are more likely to support LGBTQ+ rights. Gallup found that most people in the United States still don’t personally know a transgender person. Just 31 percent of Americans said they had friend, relative or colleague who is transgender.
That statistic is also narrower than recent polling. The PBS poll found that more than half of Americans said they knew a trans person. Again, Jones said it likely comes down to the wording of questions.
“We said, family member, friend, or work colleague, trying to limit the scope,” he said. “We’re trying not to have it be that wide of a net.”
The report is the Gallup survey released on LGBTQ+ people this year, after the firm found that more young people are identifying as LGBTQ+ than ever before in February. Wednesday’s report pulls from the responses of more 1,000 adults randomly polled earlier this month in every state and Washington, D.C.
“On a lot of the questions we asked about gay and lesbian rights, support is high,” Jones said. Support for transgender rights just isn’t there yet, he added.