Millennials have reached a broad consensus on an issue that divides the nation: By nearly 2-1, they say transgender individuals should be able to use public bathrooms designated for the gender they identify with, not the sex they were born.
A new USA TODAY/Rock the Vote survey of those 18 to 35 years old shows a 62%-32% divide on the issue, and the intensity of opinion is on one side: 34% strongly agree they should be able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with; just 17% strongly disagree.
“We have bigger problems in life than focusing on somebody’s gender,” says Gloria Garcia, 34, a nurse from Brownsville, Texas, who was among those polled said in a follow-up interview. She says people should be able to use the bathroom they prefer. “It is their life; they are not hurting anybody, and we should be focusing more on what is actually more important, like terrorism and drug trafficking.”
Franson Reneus, 18, a high-school senior from Lee County, Fla., disagrees. “I could say I identify as anything and doesn’t mean that I am it, and that is seriously crossing the line of what is real or is not,” he says. “I feel like in some years an idiot will categorize as a spoon and we will have to accept it because he feels like it.”
Opinion among older Americans is much more closely split. In April, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found by a narrow 43%-41%, the public overall says transgender individuals should use the public bathroom of the gender they were born. Those over 60 felt that way by 2-1.
But on this as other social issues, the rising generation tends to hold liberal or libertarian views. In the USA TODAY poll, 53% describe themselves as liberal on social issues; just 26% say they are conservative. That’s in contrast to other concerns. On foreign policy, the divide is much closer, 37% liberal to 32% conservative. On economic issues, 42% say they are liberal, 34% conservative.
There are partisan differences on the issue. Supporters of Republican Donald Trump for president say by 55%-41% that transgenders should use the bathroom of the gender they were born. By a much wider margin, supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton say they should use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, 76%-21%.
The battle over bathroom use is continuing in the courts. New guidelines recently issued by the Obama administration — telling schools to let students use the bathroom of the gender they identify with — have sparked legal challenges. On Friday, the state of Texas, leading a coalition of 13 states, asked a federal judge to block them in time for the approaching school year.
Meanwhile, younger Americans overwhelmingly agree that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a big problem in the United States. Just one in four say discrimination against the LGBTQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) isn’t a big problem; more than seven in 10 say it is.
Clinton supporters by more than 5-1, 83%-16%, say discrimination is a big problem. A smaller majority of Trump supporters agree, 53%-45%.
“There is a lot of hate on a day-to-day basis, people judging and making comments and remarks,” says Andrew Piland, 31, a tech executive from San Diego. “While I think discrimination is fading, I still do see it as a problem, and I know people that have dealt with it firsthand.”