Poll Shows Deep Partisan Divides Over Transgender Rights: NPR

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas at the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in February. Thomas, a transgender woman, has been at the center of the debate surrounding transgender athletes.

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University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas at the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in February. Thomas, a transgender woman, has been at the center of the debate surrounding transgender athletes.

Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Americans are widely opposed to allowing transgender female athletes to compete on women’s and women’s sports teams and, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll, are deeply divided along partisan lines on issues of transgender rights.

The NPR/Ipsos poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) oppose transgender women and girls competing on teams that match their gender identity, while 24% overall support it.

Among Democrats, opinion is fairly split: A majority, 46%, supports the right of trans female athletes to compete on women’s and women’s sports teams, while 41% oppose it.

Independent voters oppose the right of trans female athletes to compete by 3:1 (21% support; 63% opposition).

Among Republicans, support drops to just 4%, while 88% oppose it.

According to Ipsos Vice President Mallory Newall, this small percentage of Republican support demonstrates how powerful messaging on this issue has proven.

“For the leaders of the Republican Party, [trans women and sports] has become a very powerful talking point,” says Newall, “and what our polls show is that it resonates with a significant majority of their base.

The rights of trans female athletes have become a political issue

The message resonates clearly with people like Paul Bjork, 68, a semi-retired entrepreneur in Fort Smith, Ark., who tells NPR his views are shaped by conservative podcasts and guided by the Bible.

“Any law that will support transgender people, I will be against,” Bjork said. “Biologically,” he says, “there’s only one man/one woman, and having a man competing in a women’s sport doesn’t work. I mean, it’s not fair for the woman.”

Many, including scientists, reject this view of a gender binary.

Nearly 20 states have passed laws prohibiting transgender youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Transgender advocate Chris Mosier, founder of transathlete.com, calls the NPR/Ipsos poll results “deeply disappointing,” but not surprisingly. The results, he says, reflect how politicized these issues have become.

Chris Mosier during the men’s 50k walk in Santee, California on January 25, 2020, where he made history as the first transgender man to compete in the U.S. Men’s Olympic Trials.

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Chris Mosier during the men’s 50k walk in Santee, California on January 25, 2020, where he made history as the first transgender man to compete in the U.S. Men’s Olympic Trials.

Zhen Heinemann/Chris Mosier

“What’s important for people to remember,” says Mosier, “is that my identity as a trans person is not political. It has become politicized.”

Mosier is also appalled by a decision this month by FINA, the world’s swimming governing body, which effectively bans transgender women from elite international women’s competition.

“The truth is, trans women don’t dominate in sports,” says Mosier. “They’ve never dominated the sport. And it’s been largely just a scare tactic by the right to create a political wedge in an election year.”

Danielle Provencher, 49, a retired Democrat and freelance journalist from Boynton Beach, Fla., responded “somewhat opposed” to the poll’s question about trans women in sports. In an interview with NPR, Provencher said she was “confused.”

“I don’t mean to discriminate,” she says, “but I recognize that there are differences between men’s and women’s bodies, and you can’t get around that, especially when it comes to competition. … There’s that physical thing that you can’t escape.”

But Rebekah Goldstein, 33, a data manager and Democrat from Newton, Mass., is among those supporting trans female athletes on the issue.

“I just have a firm belief that if someone is a woman, wants to compete as a woman, that’s up to them,” she says. “Nobody else should be able to decide that for other people.”

Goldstein calls the trend of anti-transgender legislation being passed across the country “alarming.” “I feel anger and frustration,” she says, “that the country is moving in this direction.”

Gender-affirming medical care for trans youth reveals deep political divide

The NPR/Ipsos poll also asked about state laws that prevent transgender youth from accessing gender-transitional medical care, such as hormone therapy.

The responses show a marked partisan split.

Only 14% of Democrats support such laws, compared to 55% of Republicans.

Republican Stephen Petit, 58, a retired deputy sheriff of Denver, Colorado, is among those who believe young people under the age of 18 should not have access to such medical care.

“Let them mature for a few more years until they’re 18,” he says. “So they can make that choice.”

Neena Van Camp, 76, of Knoxville, Tennessee, is a registered Republican but says she is “totally disenchanted” with her party and, in particular, former President Donald Trump.

“Quite honestly,” she told NPR, “with the behavior of an idiot who lived in Washington, I refuse to be associated with it. … When I get solicitations from the Republican Party, I put a little note and I send instead of sending them money, and say, ‘As long as he’s up there at the top, you won’t get me to squat unnecessarily.'”

Van Camp also opposes the majority of the Republican Party on the issue of laws that ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth: she strongly opposes these laws.

“That’s what the child wants,” says Van Camp, “and they should be able to follow through on what they feel they need. … The government is getting too involved, in my opinion, it’s not their Company daggon.”

In a related question, the NPR/Ipsos poll asked whether people agree with laws or state policies that classify gender transition medical care for youth as child abuse.

“Uhhhhhh, that question makes me want to vomit!” says Provencher, the Democrat from Florida, who explains that it’s not the question itself that she finds nauseating, but the politics it is about.

The issue stems from a directive in Texas, where some families of children receiving gender transition medical care have been investigated by child protective services.

Again, the poll shows a strong partisan divide on this issue.

Nearly half of Republicans (48%) support policies that consider providing trans medical care to young people to be child abuse; 28% oppose these policies.

Meanwhile, Democrats overwhelmingly oppose those policies, nearly 5 to 1 (58% to 13%).

Provencher calls it “ridiculous” to equate gender-affirming medical care for young people with child abuse.

“I think it’s a caring and helpful thing for a parent to be able to do that,” she says. “It’s the opposite of child abuse.”

The sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans on issues of transgender rights, according to Ipsos pollster Mallory Newall, mirror the intense partisan divisions seen on social issues at all levels.

“This is just one of many examples in our society right now of how our partisan affiliation is really the lens through which we look at all issues,” Newall said.

The NPR/Ipsos poll was conducted June 10-12, 2022, with a sample of 1,028 adults online. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.

NPR’s Joel Rose contributed to this report.

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