For context, this data comes from an online survey panel conducted from May 16 to 22. It includes just over 10,000 randomly sampled people and was weighted to be representative of adults in the U.S. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.6%.
At the end of the day, what does all of this data mean? Well, a couple of things.
Part of the reason it is so easy for conservatives to push anti-trans legislation and anti-trans rhetoric is because we live in a society where trans and nonbinary folks are not routinely honored, celebrated, and respected. When folks don’t actually know or accept a trans person in their life, it’s a lot easier to legislate against them and demonize them. When people aren’t thinking critically, and Fox News poison is permeating their brains, the real-life person in front of them becomes a predator and a groomer instead of say, your accountant or neighbor.
This is part of why it’s so important for media to have accurate, humanizing portrayals of trans and nonbinary folks, and especially stories by trans and nonbinary folks. Instead of caricatures, which can even accidentally relay archaic or harmful stereotypes, we can see full dimensions of humanity and experience.
People will, obviously, feel more comfortable coming out when they have support and acceptance around them. But we can’t expect people to put themselves into potential danger, loss of employment, loss of housing, and even loss of health care in order to be visible to everyone. It’s up to allies and advocates to actively show ourselves as safe and do real organizing work.
Per this data, more people know an openly trans person because they are a friend than for other reasons. While a little over 25% of respondents have an openly trans friend, only 13% know a trans coworker. About 10% have an openly trans family member. Again, this could easily come down to allyship and advocacy or have to do with folks leaving their home towns or states and going to more LGBTQ+ friendly areas, where they might make friends who feel safer than their families. It could also speak to our lack of employment protections for trans folks.
Relatedly, people who live in suburban or urban areas, as well as people with higher levels of education, are most likely to say they know an openly nonbinary person.
In terms of the number of folks who are nonbinary, this research could provide important support for the push to offer gender-neutral sex markers (often X) on official documents and forms of identification, like driver’s licenses and passports.
Now, the data (obviously) doesn’t and can’t explain why more young people report knowing a trans person. But it’s reasonable to believe it’s at least possible that as trans folks are (admittedly slowly) being given rights, protections, and dignity, young people are growing up to see trans people as equal and safe, and thus are treating others with respect. This means not only will more people feel comfortable coming out but also that more people will have folks in their life feel safe coming out to them. It’s a circle.
For example, back in 2017, Pew conducted the same sort of research and found that only 37% of respondents said they knew an openly trans person. Now, 42% say they do. Interestingly, this includes just over 40% of conservatives and almost 50% of liberals.
Mind you, people’s rights shouldn’t depend on having friends or coworkers who are liberal or progressive. People should have rights, period, but we know that public opinion can make a big difference when it comes to getting equality and respect in this nation, especially when it comes to federal and state protections.