Oregon Values & Beliefs Center survey shows research does little to sway public opinion on bathroom access or sports

PMG FILE PHOTO -  Lakeridge High School students in Lake Oswego show their support for LGBTQ+ youth during a student walkout over anti-transgender and anti-queer legislation. A recent poll from the Oregon Values & Beliefs Center shows Oregonians are split on the full scope of Title IX protections for students.As the nation marks the start of LGBTQ+ Pride month and 50 years since the implementation of Title IX, recent statewide polling shows most Oregonians say they support protections for gay and transgender students. Still, they're split on whether trans students should be able to participate in school sports that align with their gender identity.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools and federally funded programs and requires equal participation opportunities, regardless of gender. Historically, Title IX has helped ensure schools provide equal athletic facilities and practice time for boys and girls sports.

According to an Oregon Values & Beliefs Center survey conducted in May, 64% of respondents agree with the latest interpretation of the federal law, which extends protections to transgender students, but far fewer agree with the full scope of the law.

Polling data shows 41% of 1,674 participants said trans students should be allowed to play on sports teams that match their gender identity, but 39% said they should only be allowed to play on teams that align with their gender at birth. Another 21% said they had no opinion or didn't know.

OVBC noted a plurality of women support the gender-affirming policy, while men mostly comprised the group who said trans students should have to compete according to their birth gender.

Lindsey Morrison Grant, one of the OVBC survey respondents who lives in Multnomah County, said trans and nonbinary students should have full access to facilities and programs that align with their identity, but said the bigger issue is getting society to think beyond the binary.

"Gender identity is oppressive. It is to the benefit of oppressors and not the liberty of people," Morrison Grant said by phone. "The boxes we check, those are always to the benefit of quantitative statistics. My preference is to live outside those boxes."

Grouping people into categories according to genitalia is a limited way of thinking, the survey respondent said. "When we judge you based on your genitalia, that's the same as your eye color, because its gonna be different with different people. I understand that thinking and the security of thinking you know everything, but that excludes other people and other cultures and it limits your ability to think, period, to problem solve and to think outside the box."

Trans issues follow political lines, with 62% of Democrats supporting trans students being allowed to play on sports teams that match their gender identity and 74% of Republicans supporting restrictions to trans students playing on teams that match their birth gender.

The nonprofit public opinion research group also noted that those who are more familiar with Title IX tended to agree with allowing trans students to compete according to their gender identity. OVBC notes that the high percentage of unsure responses suggests it's an "emerging issue and opinions are still being shaped by media and thought leaders."

Last year, in response to several states attempting to enact legislation effectively barring transgender women from competing in women's sports, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on the federal law, noting a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that laid the groundwork for its interpretation.

In a federal memo, the administration noted the Office of Civil Rights "has long recognized that Title IX protects all students — including students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — from harassment and other forms of sex discrimination. OCR also has long recognized that Title IX prohibits harassment and other forms of discrimination against all students for not conforming to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity," the memo states.

Despite federal guidance and research that shows transgender and nonbinary students are at lower risk for mental health issues and suicidal thoughts when schools affirm their gender identity, that didn't sway those who said bathroom access and athletic play should be restricted.

When asked whether knowing that studies link treatment of trans youth at schools with mental health and suicidality, 85% of those respondents said they felt the same, that trans students should only be allowed to play on sports teams that align with their gender at birth. Another 13% said they were less certain of their opinion after learning about the research and another 2% said they changed their mind.

Similarly, 50% of respondents said transgender students should be able to use bathrooms that align with their current gender identity; 30% disagreed and 20% skipped the question or didn't have an opinion.

When told that studies show that preventing trans students from accessing bathrooms that match their gender identity is associated with harmful mental health indicators, including suicide, 88% of the 504 people who responded said they hadn't changed their mind. Another 10% felt less certain about restricting bathroom access and 2% said they changed their mind.

Oregon Values & Beliefs Center methodology

The survey was conducted online among Oregonians 18 and older from professionally maintained online panels. The polling group said its surveys are within the statistically valid margin of error.

The nonprofit is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.

Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, click here.

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