Indiana researcher examines public views of transgender people


INDIANAPOLIS – In the ongoing battle for transgender rights in Indiana and across the country, researchers have some new insight into how the public perceives transgender people.

In a survey conducted by sociologist Brian Powell of Indiana University, along with researchers from Ohio and Maryland, 4,000 adults were asked to classify the sex of transgender people. Powell said the respondents were more likely to view a transgender person as the gender they were born with, rather than the gender they identify as. However, that view changed if the person “passes” as the gender with which they identify.

“In other words,” he said, “if somebody was born as male, but identifies as a woman and looks like a woman, then people say, ‘Sure, I’m OK viewing the person as a woman.’ ”

Powell said the findings are contrary to a popular argument used to restrict transgender rights, which is that identity should be based on biology, not physical appearance. He noted that those views could make some transgender people feel pressured that they have to “pass” as the gender they prefer in order to be accepted.

The survey results showed women are more supportive and more open about transgender people than are men, which Powell said he finds interesting.

“The whole ‘bathroom debate’ has been focused on this idea that women and children are going to be uncomfortable in the bathroom,” he said, “and yet women are the ones who are more supportive of transgender people than are men.”

Powell said the survey also found that those who personally know someone who is transgender are more likely to be inclusive and respectful of a transgender person’s gender identity.

“And for this group of people,” he said, “it doesn’t matter whether or not a transgender person ‘passes.’ If the person identifies, regardless of what they look like, if they know someone who’s transgender, they’re going to be much more open in their views about transgender people.”

In Indiana, there were recent attempts to exclude gender identity from the state’s failed hate-crimes law. At the national level, President Donald Trump has made several moves to undermine transgender rights, including removing Title IX protections from transgender youths and blocking transgender people from openly serving in the military.

The survey is online here.