In the continuation of an unexpected trend, a recent survey confirms that support for legal protections and equal rights for transgender individuals continues to grow. The results prompt questions as lawmakers are apparently unaware of the public sentiment given their continued reluctance to pass such legislation.
The results are striking both in the overwhelming majorities and in the growth in those figures since the last major survey on the subject. In the most recent survey, conducted by the Public Religion research Institute and released on November 3, 2011, a breathtaking 89% of all Americans surveyed agree that transgender persons deserve the same legal rights and protections as other Americans. The weakest support occurred among White Evangelical Christians and even there the figure was 83%, and while Republicans trailed Democrats, 86% of self-described Republicans nevertheless supported the proposition.
The impulse might be to assume that those surveyed meant something different than the question intended, but as observers have noted, when asked specifically if Congress should pass legislation protecting employment rights and adding transgender status to hate crime laws, three-quarters of Americans agreed. This included almost 2 of every 3 white evangelicals. Nor are the results primarily fueled by a friendly bias resulting from direct association with a trans individual. Only 11% of those surveyed agreed that they had a close friend or family member who was trans. A breakdown of the internal demographics would have been of interest, but no such information has been released.
For comparison, the last major survey on the issue was commissioned in 2002 by the Human Rights Campaign. Entitled “Public Perceptions of Transgender People” found that 61% favor laws protecting trans people against workplace discrimination and 68% would support inclusion hate-crimes protections. In that survey, 70% professed an understanding of the concept “transgender” and 2/3 agree with the proposition that one can feel inside that they are the opposite sex to which they were born.
These results stand in stark contrast to the results of a study released last fall documenting widespread and pervasive discrimination against transgender persons. Titled “Injustice at Every Turn” – the study found that bullying, unemployment or underemployment, poverty, and even physical and sexual assault were pervasive among the transgender population. Clearly there is a need for legislation, and a disconnect between peoples professed attitudes and the real-life experience of transgender persons. One cannot help but marvel at the effectiveness of campaigns which intimidate weak-willed legislators into refusing to address this obvious concern.
It’s also worth noting: In the more recent survey, when asked to describe what “transgender” means, almost half (46%) used the phrase “someone who switches from one gender to the other.” This phrase, in fact, more precisely defines “transsexual” which is good news for those who are medically transsexual (as opposed to some other category of gender non-conforming).
When you look at the other prominent descriptions noted by the survey, you find that phrases which accurately describe a transsexual person specifically make up 61% of respondents. Another 23% used the expression “someone who lives as the opposite gender” which is more likely, it would seem, to refer to a full time TS than to others categories of transgender people such as cross-dressers or drag queens. In fact, one would have to conclude that in the general population there is no real distinction between the terms transgender and transsexual. This may become problematic in terms of political battles ( Typically, when legislative efforts become controversial, it is because other transgender categories, such as so-called “transvestites” are used to inflame public opinion.) but does reveal that those with a transsexual medical condition enjoy near unanimous public support.
Tellingly, the older survey looked into the understanding of the term “transgender” more closely and found that when the term was defined for the respondent, those who called it “morally wrong” and who asserted that it was a “choice” actually grew. One might well surmise that in that case the provided definition was much broader than the one indicated by respondents to the newer survey. It’s possible that if a study were conducted specifically to determine the attitude towards transsexuals separately from attitudes towards other transgender groups, it might reveal a considerable gulf between the two.