Report

Public Opinion of Transgender Rights in the United States

2017 IPSOS International Survey Series
August 2019

Until recently, surveys about transgender people in the U.S. and their rights were rare. This report uses data from the Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey to examine public attitudes about transgender people and the factors that are associated with greater support for transgender rights.

Highlights
Federal statutes do not expressly protect transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other areas.
A majority of participants strongly or somewhat strongly agreed that transgender people should be protected from discrimination.
A majority of participants strongly or somewhat strongly agreed that transgender people should be protected from discrimination.
Data Points
73%
of respondents thought transgender people should be protected from discrimination
71%
of participants thought transgender people should be allowed to have gender-affirming surgery
71%
of respondents thought the U.S. is becoming more tolerant of transgender people
51%
of participants wanted the U.S. to do more to support and protect transgender people
Report

Introduction

This report presents information on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in the United States of America. We analyzed data from The Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, U.S. panel, to provide information on views toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society. This report:

  • describes attitudes toward transgender people and their rights and status in society,
  • investigates associations between individual-level participant characteristics and public opinion, and,
  • fills gaps in the current literature on public opinion regarding transgender people in the United States.

Until recently, surveys about transgender people and their rights were rare.12 However, since 2015, several studies have assessed the American public’s opinion about transgender people and their rights.345678910111213 Studies suggest that a majority of the American public supports the enactment of non-discrimination protections,14 adoption rights,15 and open military service161718 for transgender people. The public is more divided on questions about access to public restrooms based on an individual’s gender identity.1920 Factors such as familiarity with transgender people, as well as individuals’ sex and age, have been associated with support for transgender rights.2122 However, the existing literature on public attitudes regarding transgender people and their rights is thin and understanding the extent to which misperceptions about transgender people are held by various population groups can inform efforts to address prejudice towards transgender people.

Federal statutes in the United States of America do not expressly protect people from gender identity-based discrimination in employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and other realms.23 Transgender people do have the right to marry individuals in the United States, regardless of their current gender identity or birth sex, and courts are considering the constitutionality of recent policies restricting the ability of transgender people to serve in the military. However, the United States’ federal system of governance decentralizes policy-making, enabling a patchwork of policies and laws among federal, state, and municipal governments. With regard to many of the issues examined in this report, laws differ across jurisdictions. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia, for example, have state-wide statutes that explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity, and 20 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that explicitly prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity.2425 In three other states, human rights commissions have interpreted existing sex nondiscrimination statutes to also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in one or more areas.26 At the time of this writing, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an employment discrimination case about whether existing nondiscrimination protections based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be interpreted to include gender identity.27 In addition, members of Congress have introduced the Equality Act of 2019, which would amend many existing federal non-discrimination statutes to include gender identity.28 In addition to policies regarding discrimination, states also have jurisdiction over other policies that impact transgender people, such as their right to adopt children and processes for gender recognition on government-issued identity documents and records such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates which impact many aspects of transgender people’s lives, such as voting.29

Methodology

This report analyzed data gathered for the 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey about participants’ familiarity with transgender people,30 as well as attitudes toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society from an online panel assembled by Ipsos. The U.S. sample included panelists ages 18 to 64 who could complete a survey in English (see Appendix II for methodological details). Data from the U.S. panel were weighted to reflect the U.S. population ages 18 to 64.31

The analytic sample included 1,000 participants. Below we presented weighted percentages and 95% confidence intervals to describe participants’ demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, familiarity with transgender people, and attitudes toward transgender people and related public policies. We conducted weighted multinomial logistic regression analyses to determine whether individual-level characteristics, such as sex, age, education, income, and familiarity with transgender people, were associated with dependent variables, such as attitudes toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society. These analyses excluded individuals (n=37) who identified as transgender because the group was too small to generate reliable estimates for transgender participants.32 We presented additional information regarding regression analyses in Appendix I.

In our analyses, we used Stata 14 and 15. Ipsos provided survey weights which allowed results to
be adjusted to be representative of individuals in the United States ages 18 to 64. The UCLA North General Institutional Review Board (NGIRB) deemed this study exempt from review as human subjects research due to the use of de-identified data. We included further methodological details in Appendix II, Ipsos Methodology Addendum for Single Country Briefs.

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Public Opinion of Transgender Rights in the United States

Flores, A. R. (2014). National trends in public opinion on LGBT rights in the United States. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/POP-natl-trends-nov-2014.pdf

Norton, A. T. & Herek, G. M. (2013). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward transgender people: Findings from a national probability sample of U.S. adults. Sex Roles, 68(11-12): 738-753. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0110-6

Broockman, D. & Kalla J. (2016). Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing. Science, 352(6282): 220-224. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aad9713

Flores, A. R. (2015). Attitudes toward transgender rights: Perceived knowledge and secondary interpersonal contact. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 3(3): 398-416. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2015.1050414

Flores, A. R., Haider-Markel, D.P., Lewis, D.C., Miller, P.R., Tadlock, B.L., & Taylor, J.K. (2017). Challenged expectations: Mere exposure effects on attitudes about transgender people and rights. Political Psychology, 39(1): 197-216. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12402

Haider-Markel, D. P., Miller, P. R., Flores, A., Lewis, D. C., Tadlock, B., & Taylor J. (2017). Bringing “T” to the table: Understanding individual support of transgender candidates for public office. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 5(3): 399-417. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2016.1272472

Harrison, B. F., & Michelson, M.R. (2018). Gender, Masculinity Threat, and Support for Transgender Rights: An Experimental Study. Sex Roles, 80(1): 63-75. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0916-6

Jones, P. E. & Brewer, P.R. (2018). Elite cues and public polarization on transgender rights. Politics, Groups, and Identities. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2018.1441722

Jones, P. E., Brewer, P. R., Young, D. G., Lambe, J. L., & Hoffman, L. H. (2018). Explaining public opinion toward transgender people, rights, and candidates. Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(2): 252-278. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfy009

Lewis, D. C., Flores, A. R., Haider-Markel, D. P., Miller, P. R., Tadlock, B. L., & Taylor, J. K. (2017). Degrees of acceptance: Variation in public attitudes toward segments of the LGBT community. Political Research Quarterly, 70(4): 861-875. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1065912917717352

Tadlock, B. L., Flores, A. R., Haider-Markel, D. P., Lewis, D. C., Miller, P. R., & Taylor, J. K. (2017). Testing contact theory and attitudes on transgender rights. Public Opinion Quarterly, 4(12): 956-972. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfx021

Greenberg, D., Najle, M., Jackson, N., Bola, O., & Jones, R.P. (2019, June 11). America’s Growing Support for Transgender Rights. Washington, DC: PRRI. Retrieved from: https://www.prri.org/research/americas-growing-support-for-transgender-rights/

Reuters/Ipsos. (2019, June 6). Ipsos Poll Conducted for Reuters: Stonewall Anniversary Poll 06.06.2019. Retrieved from: https://static.reuters.com/resources/media/editorial/20190612/StonewallFinalResults.pdf

Taylor, J.K., Lewis, D.C., Haider-Markel, D.P., Flores, A., Miller, P., & Tadlock, B. (2018). Public opinion about transgender people and policies. In The remarkable rise of transgender rights. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 61-86. Retrieved from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3998/mpub.9448956

Ibid.

Ibid.

Pierceson, J. & Kirzinger, A. (2015). Examining attitudes towards the “T” in LGBT: Public support for transgender rights and supportive policies. Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Springfield. Retrieved from: https://transgenderinclusivepolicysurvey.wordpress.com/project-overview/

Greenberg et al. (2019)

Taylor et al. (2018)

Greenberg et al. (2019)

Flores (2015)

Reuters/Ipsos (2019)

42 U.S.C. § 2000e (2018); 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (2018); 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (2018); 42 U.S.C. § 3601 (2018)

Movement Advancement Project. (2019). Non-Discrimination Laws. Movement Advancement Project. Retrieved from: http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/non_discrimination_laws

Montana Department of Labor & Industry. (n.d.). Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment. Retrieved June 18, 2018, from http://erd.dli.mt.gov/human-rights/human-rights-laws/sex-discrimination

Movement Advancement Project (2019)

Hurley, L. (2019, April 22). U.S. Supreme Court takes up major gay, transgender job discrimination cases. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-lgbt/supreme-court-takes-up-major-gay-transgender-job-discrimination-cases-idUSKCN1RY0YU

Equality Act of 2019, H.R. 5, 116th Cong. (2019).

Herman, J. L. & Brown, T. N. T. (2018, August). The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters in the 2018 General Election. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla. edu/research/voter-id-laws-2018/

We used the term “transgender” throughout this report to refer to “people [who] dress and live as one sex even though they were born another.” This definition was intentionally broad so as to encompass the diversity of identities of gender minority peoples in the 27 countries surveyed in the larger Ipsos survey project.

Clark, J. & Jackson, C. (2018, January). Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People. Ipsos. Retrieved from: https://www. ipsos.com/en-us/news-polls/global-attitudes-toward-transgender-people

The percentage (4.9%, Effective sample size, Clopper-Pearson CI [3.1%, 7.1%]) that we classified as transgender on this survey was high compared to estimates from other representative U.S. surveys. For example, estimates derived from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) indicated that 0.6% of adults ages 18 and up identified as transgender using similar question-wording. An estimated 2.1% of empaneled respondents to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES), many of whom were under the age of 40, self-identified as transgender. Different survey measures may yield different prevalence estimates, particularly in different samples. Flores, A.R., Herman, J.L., Gates, G.J., & Brown, T.N.T. (2016). How many adults identify as transgender in the United States? Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/How-Many-Adults-Identify-as-Transgender-in-the-United-States.pdf; Ansoolabhere, S. & Schaffner, B.F. (2017). CCES common content, 2016. Harvard Dataverse. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/GDF6Z0. Authors’ calculation. The question wording from the CCES was: “Have you ever undergone any part of a process (including any thought or action) to change your gender or perceived gender from the one you were assigned at birth? This may include steps such as changing the type of clothes you wear, name you known by or undergoing surgery.”