At a televised town hall at the Philadelphia Constitution Center on October 15, 2020, then-presidential nominee Joe Biden had a riveting exchange with the mother of a transgender child. Mieke Haeck asked Biden how he would protect her daughter legally.
“I would just flat-out change the law,” Biden said. “I would eliminate [Mr. Trump’s] executive orders, number one.”
Despite Biden’s efforts thus far and despite a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll that found two-thirds of Americans are against laws that limit transgender rights, curbing such laws has not been easy. While President Biden issued an executive order on Inauguration Day that called for various government agencies to expose and address anti-LGBTQ policy, that order was limited in scope and doesn’t offer actual protections for LGBTQ people. And some of former president Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies, like those at HHS, require Congressional involvement to remove it.
Moreover, similar anti-trans laws are being pushed through the states along with other anti-LGBTQ policies, and a major LGBTQ civil rights case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, is being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court with a ruling expected in June — a ruling that will be decided by the new 6-3 majority conservative court.
In the new poll, PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist found that two-thirds of Americans are against most laws that would limit the rights of trans individuals. That opposition includes majorities of every political ideology from liberal to conservative and every age group.
This news comes as GOP legislatures nationwide are pushing numerous anti-LGBTQ laws. Anti-LGBTQ legislation has become a focal point of the Republican Party since January, suggesting that the new culture wars will pivot off LGBTQ discrimination.
More than 60 anti-LGBTQ bills are being considered across the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which lists anti-LGBTQ rights laws in proposal. These bills fall under a range of categories — all discriminatory and dangerous to LGBTQ lives.
“The parties are speaking to their base people,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the poll. “The Democratic coalition is more diverse. It’s broader. The Republicans are speaking to a much narrower base, and that can put you against the overall public opinion within those jurisdictions.”
About one half of one percent of U.S. adults are transgender, according to a recent Gallup survey. In the PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, more than half of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender. That includes 53 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of independents.
The poll notes that people under the age of 40 are more than twice as likely as older Americans to know someone who is transgender. Among Gen Z and millennials, 63% said they do, while only 28% of people over 74 years old said the same. Yet only five years ago, less than a third of Americans said they knew someone who was transgender, a Pew Research survey found.
According to the new poll, fewer than three in ten people support state laws that prohibit gender-affirming care for minors or that criminalize providers of that care, like the law just passed in Florida.
Republicans and Democrats are equally split on this issue, with only 26% supporting bills that prohibit this medical care, and 70% opposed.
Republican support for criminalizing gender transition-related care for minors was significantly higher, 38%, while only 19% of Democrats supported such criminalization. Even more supporters of former President Trump in the 2020 election, 42%, said they support such criminalization.
The poll also focused on an issue that Republicans in Congress repeatedly raised in debate over the Equality Act and which is the subject of many proposed laws: participation of trans women and girls in women’s sports.
The poll found only 28% of Americans overall support bills to bar transgender youth from competing on teams that align with their gender, while two-thirds oppose the bills. Opposition is consistent across the political spectrum with two-thirds of Democrats, Republicans and independents in agreement. People who know someone who is transgender are five points more likely to oppose these efforts than people who do not.
Half of people said transgender children should be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity, while 44 percent said they should not. In middle school, the split was 49 percent for, and 47 percent against. In high school, 47 percent were for and 48 percent against. And in college, 49 percent were in favor and 45 percent opposed.
Among Democrats, 75% say transgender high school athletes should be allowed to play on teams where they identify with their gender, while more than 80% of Republicans say they should not. Independents are more closely divided with 44% in favor and 50% opposed.
Concomitantly, the new poll found that there is a vast divide between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to support for the Equality Act, which is the only legal means to secure protections for the entire LGBTQ community — with trans people being the most vulnerable to legal attack right now.
The House passed the Equality Act, which would expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBTQ people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, on February 25. The Senate has yet to schedule debate on the bill. President Biden has said he wanted the bill passed in his first 100 days in office.
The poll found that 63% of Americans support the Equality Act, but that support is sharply divided along party lines. While 90% of Democrats support the bill, just 32% of Republicans do. And while nearly eight in ten adults under the age of 40 support the Equality Act, less than half of Americans aged 75 and older agree.
This part of the poll undercuts the impact of the other data — which are encouraging — and points to the disconnect between what people say in theory versus what they will actually support.
On April 21, Sharita Gruberg, Vice President of the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the progressive Center for American Progress, addressed this disconnect. In an email, Gruberg focused on the many bills restricting access to healthcare for trans individuals. She said, “These attacks put the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the country at risk. Meanwhile, discrimination against transgender people of all ages continues to perpetuate the poverty and violence experienced by so many in the community.”
And with regard to the Equality Act, Gruberg said, “The explicit extension of our nation’s civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ people would provide practical tools to stop these hateful attacks and begin building a better future for transgender people in America.”