Until recently, the struggles that transgender individuals face in both public and private institutions have been discussed primarily in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community, but not by the wider public. Thankfully, a November study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has found that the majority of Americans support strong rights and legal protections for transgender individuals. This positive change in public opinion proves that civil rights movements have finally caught on with the general public. Whatever the case, it appears that the attitude of the majority of American toward transgender individuals is changing for the better.
The results of the poll have been reported widely in both LGBTQ and mainstream media sources. The historically queer magazine The Advocate wrote in its analysis of the study that the majority of Americans support transgender rights legislation at the federal level, an important change from previous attitudes. A handful of gender-studies Ph.D. commentators have suggested that support has cropped up even in traditionally conservative communities as awareness of trans issues has been raised in the media. For example, Chaz Bono appeared on the popular show Dancing with the Stars during the 2011 season, offering millions of television viewers the opportunity to see that trans people are not so different after all. Increased awareness of the presence and struggles of the trans community has no doubt led to wider support for these individuals in America on the whole.
Unfortunately, some of the exposure that transgender people have received in the media has been the result of tragic events. Increased public awareness of hate crimes has led to general discomfort with the idea that anyone would be killed because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender identity. Even Americans who find themselves uncomfortable with transgender people are not likely to feel that murder is justifiable. In particular, the National Catholic Reporter has noted that support for transgender rights is especially high amongst American Catholics. While the magazine's readers have debated the findings of this study, the inclusion of this topic in a major Catholic publication can be seen as a huge leap forward for transgender folk. As conservative religious groups generally boast very high voter turnout, this might also indicate a positive future for ballot initiatives related to the rights of all people, regardless of gender identity.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the majority of Evangelical protestants and Republicans were even found to support transgender rights and legal protections. This seems to signal a return to the foundation of equality in which both Christians and Republicans have purported to believe. For many Christians, Jesus' imperative to "love others as yourself" must be carried over to transgender folks. It can be hoped that this positive shift in attitude will allow churches to become crucial support and organizing centers for transgender individuals and activists. Likewise, inclusion in church groups is often important for trans people who grew up in religious families but have felt isolated from this community. Greater inclusion in religious and social groups may lead to even greater awareness of the struggles that trans individuals face.
In addition to showing broad support for trans rights, the PRRI study also found that an overwhelming majority of Americans polled felt that they had a solid understanding of transgender rights. The study also discovered that approximately 75 percent of Americans polled had a solid understanding of what the term "transgender" means. About 11 percent of those polled reported that they had a close friend or family member who identifies as transgender. As more individuals come to know transgender people, support for trans rights should increase. Thanks to the hard work of trans activists and allies, and increasing inclusion in mainstream media, Americans feel more comfortable discussing trans individuals. These adults seem to be concerned about the rights of others and understand that such rights form the foundation of the Constitution. If nothing else, the PRRI study has encouraged discussion of the struggles of trans individuals and will foster further debate of how to best protect and include the trans community in American society.
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