Majority Of Americans Support Transgender Rights On Bathroom Access, Other Issues

A new poll shows that a majority of Americans support equal rights for transgender Americans, with only Republicans disagreeing with that position.

A new poll shows that a majority of Americans are supportive of equal rights for transgender Americans, including allowing them to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity:

A majority of voters would support a law requiring public institutions to allow transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity or stated sex, according to the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.

The survey found 54 percent support for such a law, with a plurality, 44 percent, saying the Supreme Court should rule on the matter rather than leaving it up to the states, at 34 percent, or Congress, at 20 percent. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they would support a Supreme Court ruling finding that transgender people have a constitutional right to use a bathroom that aligns with their identity.

“There has been a sea-change in public opinion on use of public restrooms by transgender people, and a narrow majority would favor a constitutional ruling letting people use the restroom of their gender identity,” said Mark Penn, the co-director of the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll.

“Surprisingly, 44 percent of the public would prefer the Supreme Court to decide the issue rather than leave it to the states or Congress. This suggests the public does not think either states or Congress is prepared to handle social issues like this.”

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to a transgender bathroom policy for a Pennsylvania school district, allowing an order that transgender people be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room aligned with their gender identity to go into effect.

The public is still split on the question of which bathroom transgender people should use, with 50 percent saying they should be required to use the bathroom aligning with the sex they were assigned at birth and 50 percent saying they should be able to use the bathroom that best aligns with their identity.

Seventy percent of Republicans say transgender people should use the bathroom of their birth sex, while 64 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents say they should be able to use the bathroom that best aligns with their identity.

There is also a gender gap, with 54 percent of men saying transgender people should use the bathroom of their birth sex and 54 percent of women saying transgender people should be able to use the bathroom that best aligns with their identity.

A strong majority of voters, 68 percent, say transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military.

These results are, as Mark Penn says, a sea change in public attitudes that in many ways reflects the ways that attitudes have changed on other social issues such as gay rights generally, marriage equality, and marijuana legalization. As with the changes in public attitudes about those issues, the changes in public opinion about these issues is coming at an exceedingly rapid pace. It’s not surprising, of course, that Republicans are the least likely to support transgender rights. We saw much the same thing with respect to other social issues that showed self-identified conservatives and Republicans out of step with the rest of the public. In time, though, even attitudes among those groups changed on gay rights, marriage equality, and marijuana legalization. I suspect we’ll see the same thing on this issue.

It took nearly thirty years after the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia for polling to show that a majority of Americans to show majority acceptance of interracial marriage. It took roughly the same amount of time for Americans to become accepting of homosexuality in general. It took roughly twenty years, from the passage of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s for public opinion to come around to support marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans. It took about the same amount of time for public attitudes to change on marijuana legalization. On this issue, though, it seems as though public opinion has changed rapidly in a very short period of time, although that could be a side effect of the increased acceptance of alternative lifestyles generally and LGBT rights in particular.

All of that being said, there are still some areas dealing with transgender rights issues where there isn’t really a consensus. For example, a plurality of voters, 45% to be precise, said it would be unfair for athletes of one birth sex to compete against transgender athletes. This has become something of an issue at the High School and youth levels, primarily in the form of transgender women and girls competing against other women and girls notwithstanding the fact that they are biologically male and may still possess some of the physical advantages that men have over women in athletics. This issue has become the subject of debate in recent years and most recently caused some people to criticize tennis great Martina Navratilova for her comments about the issue.

As I noted at the time, though, it’s by no means clear how this issue should be handled and, at the very least, there does seem to be something unfair about the idea that people who were born male and identify as female should be allowed to compete in women’s sports on an equal level with people who were born biologically female. At the same time, though, I am fine to let the appropriate governing bodies of individual sports to decide how to handle this issue on their own rather than imposing a solution on them. Of course, this is easier said than done given the fact that Federal law does play a role here to the extent we’re talking about school sports thanks to the provisions of Title IX that apply to school athletics.

Another issue that implicates transgender rights that isn’t directly covered in the poll is the question of the rights of transgender students in public school. As I’ve noted before, Federal courts that have ruled on the issue have generally found that transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity. Just this week, for example, the Supreme Court let stand a Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision that rejected a challenge to an “equal access” policy by a group of students in suburban Philadelphia and, as I said, pretty much every Federal court that has ruled on this issue has sided with the transgender student. Because it apparently doesn’t ask the question, we don’t know if the public is as accepting of transgender bathroom access in the case of students who are minors as it is for transgender Americans as a whole.

Nonetheless, this poll is generally speaking good news and, perhaps, a sign that we’ll see progress in this area at a far faster pace than other social issues.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, LGBT Rights, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Jax says:

    Republicans spend entirely too much time worrying about what people are doing in the bathroom. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I am in a public restroom I studiously avoid making eye contact with any other occupants. It’s highly unlikely I’m going to notice there might be a scary transgender person behind that closed stall door.

  2. JohnMcC says:

    In fact there is similar polling one could find on virtually the entire ‘liberal agenda’ if the various planks of the platform are introduced singly. The whole enchilada as someone once said: A woman’s right to choose an abortion; a minimum wage that’s livable; freedom from excess student debt; Environmental and clean-air/-water movements; sensible gun control. Just about the entire program would get a majority vote if we trust the polls.

    There will be a political earthquake and realignment at some near-future time to reflect this cultural and social change. Or…well, it was a pretty good democracy for a while there, ya know…

  3. Howard Kay says:

    And this stuff is going on ONLY in the South.

    Gee, what a surprise…..