In the same week the Vatican released a new document on gender described by LGBTQ advocates as harmful and oppressive, new polling shows U.S. Catholics are increasingly comfortable with and supportive of transgender people.
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released findings yesterday from its report on transgender issues in the United States. Key among the findings was that 68% of Catholics say they are more supportive of trans rights than they were five years ago, higher than any other Christian denomination by at least eight percentage points. Just 22% of Catholics said they had grown more opposed.
Behind this support may be a recognition, held by 78% of Catholics, that trans people suffer from social stigma. As previous research has suggested, PRRI’s data confirmed that Catholics are generally supportive of anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections:
- 60% of Catholics opposed allowing small businesses to deny services to LGB people based on religious belief;
- 67% of Catholics opposed allowing licensed professionals (doctors, teachers, social workers, etc.) to deny services to LGB people based on religious belief;
- 63% of Catholics opposed allowing religiously affiliated social service agencies that receive public funding to refuse services to qualified LGB adoptive parents.
One interesting insight from PRRI’s findings is that large majorities of people in the U.S. believe federal anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections already exist. For instance, 79% believe it is illegal for a healthcare provider to refuse treatment to an LGBT individual, yet that is not true. Just 4% of respondents knew that such protections do not exist at the federal level.
Catholics’ knowledge about non-discrimination issues matched the general populations’ levels. One outlier is that unlike other religious groups, more Catholics incorrectly believe it is illegal for a religious institution to refuse to perform an LGBTQ wedding than know that such actions are legal (46% to 43%)
Part of the rising support for trans rights may be due to growing comfort with transgender people. 62% of Catholics said they would feel somewhat or very comfortable if a close friend was transgender and 61% said they would feel somewhat or very comfortable with a local teacher being transgender.
But these numbers from PRRI also show weak spots for Catholics where more education is needed. Just 53% of Catholics said they would be somewhat or very comfortable with a transgender child, which is higher than rates for other Christian denominations and overall Americans, but still quite low.
Similarly, 50% of Catholics supported policies that would require transgender people to use bathrooms according to their assigned sex at birth. This rate was higher than nonwhite Protestants and white mainline Protestants. People in the U.S. overall opposed these policies, but only by 47% to 44% opposed. And Catholic opposition to allowing wedding-related business providers to deny services to LGB clients based on provider’s religious belief has dropped 8% from 63% to 55% in just two years.
PRRI’s findings show a clear difference between U.S. Catholics and the Vatican document on gender, namely the role of experience and encounter. The Congregation for Catholic Education may claim it seeks dialogue, but its definition is foreign to the faithful who have done real dialogue. Catholics in the pews enact daily what Church leaders fail to do which is listen to, learn from, and befriend LGBTQ people. This “culture of encounter,” to steal a phrase from Pope Francis, is what is making Catholics more supportive of transgender and LGBTQ rights generally. But while the PRRI numbers are hopeful, they do reveal how much more work LGBTQ advocates have to do in promoting education and fostering dialogue.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 12, 2019