Momentum for transgender acceptance outpaces that of gay rights

Americans' views of transgender rights are rapidly shifting, though regional variations persist.

Nick Ut/AP
Students rally outside Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, where a scuffle broke out with adult protesters over a new gender-neutral bathroom. Bathrooms for those identifying as transgender have become a focal point in the national debate.

Public opinion around transgender rights and acceptance appears to be moving much more quickly than that of gay rights, but opinion often splits regionally and across age groups.

The view that people who identify as transgender can use a restroom corresponding to their gender with which they currently identify rather than the gender assigned at birth is gaining more traction among young people, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.

"Gender identity is a pretty new term for a lot of people," Paisley Currah, a political science professor at Brooklyn College who writes on transgender issues, told Reuters. "The gay rights movement in the last few years moved very quickly and I feel like the transgender movement is moving at even greater speed."

Pollsters found 92 percent of Americans had heard the word "transgender" for referring to a man who identifies as a woman or vice-versa. Adults age 29 and under believe that they should be able to use the restroom corresponding to the gender they prefer by almost a 2-1 ratio, according to the poll.

Overall, 44 percent of women say a man who identifies as transgender should be permitted to use the women's restroom, while 39 percent opposed this. However, older Americans agree by a 2-to-1 ratio with a law recently passed in North Carolina that regulates bathroom use by gender designated at birth.

Septuagenarian Dale Garvey of Washington holds the majority opinion for his age group, citing concerns about "peeping Toms." He recounted an experience in the 1980s when a male coworker who identified as transgender made women in the workplace uncomfortable while using the women's restroom.

"Quite seriously, sometimes we would get a rental car (for work) and people didn't want to ride with him. It gave us an uneasy feeling," Mr. Garvey told Reuters.

Although the shift from almost no awareness to a large share of acceptance has occurred quickly, it spits along more than age. Religiosity also provides an indicator for individual feelings on the issue, with regular church attenders more than twice as likely to agree with North Carolina's law than those who did not attend church frequently.

Only 29 percent of Democrats preferred restrictions around restroom use based on gender at birth, compared with 64 percent of Republicans. Although politics plays a key role in how an individual feels about the issue, regionalism is also significant.  Those who live in New England or the Northwest are much more fluid in their views on gender, while people from the South and the Southwest are more likely to want bathroom use kept separate by birth gender.

"As long as they're not harming anyone, not harming children, and are dressed as male or female according to the bathroom where they are going, they have the same rights as everybody else," said sexagenarian poll participant Debbie Dellera, a Republican and Donald Trump supporter from New Jersey.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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