The majority of Americans support allowing openly transgender people to serve in the military but oppose permitting them to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity, according to new Gallup data.
The annual Values and Beliefs survey — conducted May 3-18 by telephone interviews with 1,016 randomly selected adults living in the U.S. — found that 66 percent of people favor allowing openly trans people to serve in the military, though Gallup noted that this figure is down slightly from its previous measure in 2019, when 71 percent were in favor.
At the same time, 62 percent of Americans say trans athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth, while 34 percent say they should be able to play on teams that match their gender identity.
The contrast — one in support of trans people’s participation and the other against — is at least in part due to the wave of state legislation seeking to bar trans students from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“What people are reacting to here is just an absolute barrage orchestrated by the extremist anti-LGBT groups — the same ones who, in 2004, caused there to be a bunch of marriage equality losses around the states,” Keisling said.
As a result of proposals to ban same-sex marriage, Keisling said reporters in 2004 were asking, “Are people turning against gay people?”
“And in fact the opposite was true,” she said, adding that “2004 was the real turning point in the marriage equality fight — not in small part because of all of those bills that passed all around the country.”
Since 2004, public support for same-sex marriage has steadily increased, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, which researches LGBTQ policy issues.
So, while the Gallup data on trans athlete participation “isn’t good,” according to Keisling, she’s hopeful, because the survey did find that more people know trans people, which she believes will positively affect public opinion.
Support for trans military service down slightly
Public support for trans people serving in the military is down from 71 percent in favor in 2019 to 66 percent in 2021, though the drop was mostly among political independents. In its analysis, Gallup wrote that it “has routinely found shifts in public opinion, particularly among political independents, during presidential transition periods — as has been the case for approval of the Affordable Care Act and support for labor unions.”
The margin of error for the total sample of national adults was plus or minus 4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
Keisling said that “as more and more people are exposed to trans service members and trans veterans, support will stabilize.”
Unlike state policies on trans athlete participation, federal policy has also become more supportive of trans people serving in the military. During his first week in office, President Joe Biden repealed former President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people enlisting.
A potential turning point
Keisling said state legislators who have introduced measures to ban trans girls and women from competing on girls and women’s sports teams “have done a great job of framing the conversation.” The proposals target middle school, high school and college athletes, but when most people are asked about trans athlete participation, they think of elite or professional athletes, she said.
So far, governors in eight states have signed laws or executive orders restricting trans student athlete participation — seven of them in 2021.
Gallup noted in its analysis that the issue of sports policies for trans athletes is “fairly new to many Americans, and that their opinions on LGBT issues have changed over time, often in big ways.”
“Sizable majorities of Americans have expressed consistent support for transgender military service in recent years, whereas this first measure on sports policies suggests that they are not viewing the two issues the same way,” Gallup wrote.
Keisling said that as people know more about the issue, and know more trans people, public opinion will change. And Gallup data suggests that might be true.
Those who know someone who is trans are more likely to say trans athletes should be able to play on a team of their gender identity, with 40 percent in favor, than people who do not know someone who is transgender, with 31 percent in favor. Those who have a trans person in their life are also more supportive of trans people’s right to serve openly in the military, at 74 percent, than those who do not know someone who is trans, at 62 percent.
Gallup noted that it found a similar trend in the past among Americans who personally knew a gay person and their views on related issues.
“If you look at the younger folks in terms of who knows a trans person, it's really obvious here that we're winning,” Keisling said, pointing to the fact that half of people younger than 30 know someone who is trans, according to Gallup. By comparison, only 19 percent of the oldest age group, people 65 and older, know a trans person.
“These state legislators who are doing this, their children and their children's children already know that they're making this stuff up for political gain,” she said, referring to trans athlete restrictions. “Someday they'll be in the dustbin of history.”