Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds most Americans opposed to trans athletes participating in women’s sports

Placeholder while loading article actions

Although a growing share of Americans say they know and tolerate transgender people, most oppose allowing transgender female athletes to compete against other women at the professional, college and high school level, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The poll, conducted May 4-17 among 1,503 people across the United States, finds that 55% of Americans oppose transgender women and girls competing with other women and girls in sports high school and 58% oppose it for college and professional sports. . About 3 in 10 Americans said transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete at each of these levels, while Another 15% don’t have an opinion.

At the youth level, 49% are opposed to transgender girls competing with other girls, while 33% say they should be allowed to compete and 17% have no opinion.

The poll was seen as a growing proportion of Americans, especially younger people, identifying as transgender and whether transgender women should compete with cisgender women and girls has become a topic of social debate and Politics.

Last week, Louisiana joined at least 17 other states in banning transgender women and girls from competing on women’s sports teams. Much of this legislation across the country has been passed in the past year, led by Republican lawmakers. Louisiana’s ban, which applies to all public elementary and secondary schools and colleges and some private schools, became law after the state’s Democratic governor refused to sign it or oppose it. veto.

The issue has become politicized despite the low proportion of people who identify as transgender and the limited number of specific situations in which participation has raised concerns.

A Pew Research Center poll released last Tuesday found that 0.6% of Americans identify as transgender, but among those ages 18 to 29, the share jumped to 2%. Another 1% of Americans said they were not binary – neither male nor female, or not strictly one or the other – a share that rose to 3% of people aged 18-29.

A 2021 Gallup phone poll found that 0.7% of adults identified as transgender, while a slightly higher percentage identified as gay (1.5%), lesbian (1.0%), bisexual (4.0%) or another non-heterosexual identity (0.3%).

FAQ: What you need to know about transgender children

Among athletes, controversy has centered on transgender women, in particular. Critics say they have an unfair physical advantage over cisgender women due to factors such as generally having greater muscle mass and larger skeletal frame, bone density and testosterone levels, which which can help improve athletic performance.

Critics of the bans say they deny the right of transgender athletes to compete in a space that matches their gender, further stigmatizing children who are at greater risk of mental health issues. Critics too say the bans overestimate the extent of participation of trans girls and women in athletics.

The Post-UMD poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans, 68%, say transgender girls would have a competitive advantage over other girls if they were allowed to compete with them in youth sports; 30% say none would have an advantage, while 2% say the other girls would have an advantage.

A slim majority of 52% say they are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned that the mental health of transgender girls will suffer if they are not allowed to compete with other girls in youth sports; 48% are “not too much” or “not at all” concerned about this.

Despite being overwhelmingly opposed to their participation in sports, the Post-UMD poll finds that Americans’ general attitudes toward transgender people are more positive than negative.

Read the results of the post-UMD survey

The poll also reveals that 40% of Americans say greater social acceptance of transgender people is “good for society,” while 25% say it’s “bad for society,” and 35% say it’s is “neither good nor bad”. The percentage saying transgender acceptance is bad for society is down from 32% in a Pew Research Center survey a year ago.

Transgender acceptance varies greatly depending on age, political leanings, and personal relationships. About 1 in 6 Americans, 16%, know a close friend or family member who is transgender, and 40% say they know a transgender person personally, outside of acquaintances, according to the survey.

Americans who personally know a close friend or family member who are transgender are twice as likely to say that greater social acceptance of transgender people is good for society: 70%, compared to 35% among those who don’t. no transgender friend or family member. Of those who do not have a transgender friend or family member, 38% say social acceptance of transgender people is neither good nor bad, while 28% say it is bad.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (64%) believe greater social acceptance of transgender people is good for society, compared to 40% of independents and 14% of Republicans.

Younger people also report more positive feelings about increased transgender acceptance, with 54% of Americans ages 18-29 saying it’s good for society, compared to 48% of Americans in their 30s, 46% of those in their 40s, 28% of those 50 to 64, and 32% of those 65 and older. At the same time, less than half of 18-29 year olds say transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete with other female athletes at all levels.

It is possible that familiarity and acceptance of transgender people is on a similar trajectory to familiarity with gay men and lesbians a generation ago. The 40% of people who say they personally know a transgender person echoes the proportion of Americans who said they personally know a gay or lesbian person in a 1992 CBS News/New York Times poll (42%); that figure rose to 77% in a 2010 CBS News poll.

Americans’ attitudes toward transgender athletes appear malleable, and some polls asking different questions have found mixed results. The post-UMD results are similar to results from the 2021 Gallup Poll, which indicated that 62% of Americans said transgender athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender rather than their birth gender. their gender identity. However, a May 2022 SSRS survey found that 59% of Americans said they were opposed to banning transgender girls from participating in K-12 girls’ sports, while 41% supported a prohibition.

Transgender people have also become increasingly common in popular culture, from retired Olympian and media personality Caitlin Jenner to the reality TV series “I Am Jazz,” about a transgender teenager.

The idea that Americans would become more accepting of transgender people as they become more visible in society makes sense to Michael Hanmer, research director of UMD’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, who has teamed up with The Post for the survey.

“A long line of research shows that knowing the members of a particular group leads to more positive attitudes toward the group,” Hanmer said. We see it here, as there is a large increase in the proportion who say greater acceptance is good for society among those who personally know a transgender person.

But, Hanmer added, despite “some evidence of this when we look specifically at support for enabling transgender women and girls to compete with other women and girls…the changes are much smaller, suggesting that there are additional considerations involved”.

The Equality Act is a positive step forward for the LGBTQ community. But that was accompanied by a swift reaction from conservative lawmakers. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Cherisse Villanueva, 34, a pharmacy technician in Honolulu, said she knows more than 10 transgender people and thinks society should accept them. “Everyone is human, no matter how they feel or what they were born with,” she said.

But Villanueva said she doesn’t believe transgender girls and women should compete with cisgender people. “I don’t mean to be mean, but biologically they’re built like a man, even if they identify as a woman…so of course they would have the advantage of winning.” Villanueva, a tennis player, added that she is “already intimidated when we play mixed tennis and there is a man on the other side”.

Villanueva said she doesn’t know how to address the issue of mental health repercussions for transgender female athletes who are not allowed to compete against other women and girls. “This question is such a dilemma,” she said. “It’s hard to separate things.”

This concern is common even among people who generally support transgender people, said Mark Hyman, director of UMD’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. “People are increasingly aware of the issue and empathize with the journey transgender people have taken, but the idea that they are competing against athletes born of a particular gender is lagging behind. “

Even teammates of Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer who won a national championship, had reservations, Hyman noted.

“They were totally supportive of her surgery and her journey, but opposed to her competing in the women’s team, so from a practical point of view it’s further evidence that there is a huge step backwards,” said he declared. “There is significant momentum against transgender athletes in competition. … The survey results show me that’s a factor in how people react to this.

The poll was conducted online May 4-17, 2022 among a random national sample of 1,503 adults by The Washington Post and the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at the University of Maryland. The sample was drawn through the SSRS Opinion Panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited by random sampling of US households. The overall results have a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Naomi C. Amerson