In much of the country, there are deep divides by partisanship and news consumption on using gender-neutral pronouns, being comfortable with a friend coming out as LGBTQ+, and feeling that it’s appropriate to discuss gender identity in schools.
A new survey from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) provides more insight into these splits — and finds that some Americans seem to be moving further away from certain acceptance of LGBTQ+ people.
Among a representative sample of 5,046 adults across all 50 states, PRRI found that 62 percent of Americans believe that people spend too much time talking about gender and pronouns. Compared with previous years, more Americans across several generations believe that there are only two gender identities. And 53 percent of Americans agree that public schools interfere too much with parents’ rights to determine what their children are taught.
Melissa Deckman, the CEO of PRRI, said the survey aimed to reconcile long-term trends of increased support for same-sex marriage and growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the United States with a mounting wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Republican-controlled states that especially targets transgender Americans.
The relatively low share of Americans who personally know and are close with someone who is transgender or uses gender-neutral pronouns, Deckman said, may be contributing to the more polarized views on gender identity. The survey found 80 percent of Republicans feel strongly that there are only two genders compared to 48 percent of independents and 28 percent of Democrats.
“I think it’s this unfamiliarity with this community that is breeding maybe more hardened positions on the gender binary or some of these issues,” she said.
Fifty-one percent of Americans said in the online survey, conducted in March, that they have a close personal relationship with someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual, while only 11 percent said that they know someone who is transgender. Twenty-five percent said that they have a transgender acquaintance. Personally knowing a trans or LGBTQ+ person has been linked to greater acceptance. However, though other polling has found that a growing number of Americans know a trans person, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand or accept their identity.
Notably, the survey finds that media trust is an outsized factor in Americans’ views on gender and LGBTQ+ people.
Americans who trust Fox News or conservative news sources are more likely than others to believe that there are only two genders, and are the least likely in PRRI’s survey to be comfortable with learning a friend is in a same-sex relationship. These news consumers feel more strongly that same-sex romantic relationships are never appropriate to discuss in schools, and three-quarters of them say people spend too much time discussing gender and pronouns. Just 36 percent of those who watch no TV news and 25 percent who watch mainstream news, by contrast, believe same-sex relationships are never appropriate to discuss in schools.
“This is an important reminder in our survey that the types of media that you consume is strongly linked to your attitudes about these issues as well, especially in the case of Fox News, or far-right media,” Deckman said.
About half of respondents, 80 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of Democrats, said they believe public schools are providing harmful information about gender and sexuality to students. Only 36 percent believe that it is never appropriate to teach students, at any age, that some people do not consider themselves to be a man or a woman.
And less than half of Americans, 43 percent, believe that young people are being peer pressured into being transgender. White evangelical protestants and people who didn’t know a LGBTQ+ person or someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns showed high levels of agreement with that statement.
“I think there’s this perception on the political right that even discussing this topic provides harmful information, and will lead to some sort of indoctrination,” Deckman said. “And I don’t think that that is necessarily something that we found at all.”
Americans’ beliefs around gender and LGBTQ+ people are shifting amid a political firestorm that has queer and transgender people feeling threatened across the country. Some families of trans youth, as well as trans adults, are fleeing states with increasingly restrictive laws.
The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ+ organization, has declared a “state of emergency” for LGBTQ+ people — an alarm that advocates have been ringing all year. More states are signing gender-affirming care restrictions into law that affect both transgender youth and adults, are limiting how LGBTQ+ issues can be discussed in classrooms, and are passing bills that would require school employees to out students as transgender to their parents — regardless of if that may be safe for them.
But in the survey, there wasn’t a major divide between parents and non-parents on the questions of whether public schools are providing students with harmful information on gender and sexuality, whether public schools interfere too much with parents’ rights to determine curriculum and whether young people are being peer pressured into being transgender. Both groups were about evenly split on all those questions.
Republicans, Fox News viewers and White evangelicals showed the highest levels of agreement on all those questions. Multiple 2024 Republican presidential candidates are heavily emphasizing anti-transgender rhetoric and parental rights-focused messaging on the campaign trail.
“We see of course, Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump running in the GOP primary talking about these things pretty vociferously, but that’s because our data show that Republicans care about these issues,” Deckman said. “Whether that translates into a winning strategy come November 2024, I think, is more of an open question.”