By Lisa Cannon Green
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most Americans see nothing morally wrong with gender change, LifeWay Research finds.
Six in 10 Americans don’t think it’s wrong for people to identify with a gender different from their birth sex, according to the Nashville-based research organization.
And more than half don’t think it’s wrong to switch genders by taking hormones or having surgery.
The findings indicate most Americans don’t see moral significance in being born male or female, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“A majority of Americans reject the view of a creator giving them a gender that shouldn’t be changed,” he said.
“We freely change many things about ourselves—we have cosmetic surgery, we use teeth whitener, we dye our hair, we get tattoos. Many Americans view gender as one more thing on that list.”
‘Not a moral issue’
Questions of morality have surfaced as politicians debate restroom access, employment protection, insurance coverage and military service for transgender people.
Is it morally permissible for a doctor to remove healthy organs? Is it acceptable to give puberty-delaying drugs to children who feel gender conflict? Is it ethical for society to require people to live as one gender if they identify strongly with the other?
However, many Americans say gender simply isn’t a moral issue.
LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Americans whether they agree or disagree that changing one’s gender or identifying with a different gender is morally wrong. Respondents also had the option to select “it’s not a moral issue.”
About a third of Americans (35 percent) say it’s wrong for people to identify with a gender different from their birth sex, while 45 percent disagree. As for changing gender, 42 percent say it’s morally wrong and 43 percent disagree.
But 14 percent of Americans say identifying with a different gender isn’t a matter of morality, and almost as many (11 percent) say it isn’t a moral issue to alter one’s gender through hormones or surgery.
“This reflects a changing worldview,” McConnell said. “A growing percentage of Americans don’t believe in right and wrong. They don’t believe there’s absolute truth—and if there’s no absolute truth, then they’re reluctant to talk about morality.”
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Evangelical believers are dramatically more likely than other Americans to voice moral concerns about gender change, the survey shows.
More than half of people with evangelical beliefs (54 percent) say it’s wrong to identify with a different gender. Only about a quarter of Catholics (26 percent), a third of those in non-Christian faiths such as Judaism or Islam (35 percent), and a fifth of the nonreligious (20 percent) share that view.
Excluding evangelical believers, three-quarters of Americans cite no moral qualms about changing gender identification.
Americans are slightly more concerned about altering gender through surgery or hormones, but it remains mostly an evangelical issue.
Evangelical believers are almost twice as likely (61 percent) as non-evangelical Americans (32 percent) to say using surgery or hormones to change birth gender is morally wrong. Compared to evangelicals, significantly fewer Catholics (29 percent), those of non-Christian faiths (41 percent), or the nonreligious (21 percent) believe it’s wrong to alter gender by medical means.
“Evangelical Christians are clearly in the minority on this issue,” McConnell said.
Those who personally know a transgendered person are much less likely to consider gender change morally wrong, the LifeWay Research survey shows.
Among the 71 percent of Americans who say they have no transgender acquaintances, almost half (48 percent) say it is wrong to change genders using surgery or hormones, and nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) say it is wrong to identify with another gender.
Those numbers drop by more than a third among the 27 percent of Americans who say they know a transgendered person. Twenty-eight percent of this group says changing gender by medical means is wrong, and 25 percent says identifying with a different gender is wrong.
Acquaintances of transgendered people are also significantly more likely to believe changing gender through surgery or hormones isn’t a matter of morality. About one in six (16 percent) says such medical intervention is not a moral issue, compared to 9 percent of those who don’t know a transgendered person.
Young adults, 18-24 years old, are most likely to report knowing a transgender person and less likely than others to consider gender change immoral. In that age group, 41 percent have a transgender acquaintance, and 31 percent say it’s wrong to alter gender through surgery or hormones.
Evangelicals, in contrast, are less likely than others to know a transgender person (20 percent) and more likely to have moral objections.
More women than men say they know someone who is transgender (32 percent vs. 21 percent), but their beliefs about the morality of gender change are similar.
Lisa Cannon Green is managing editor of Facts & Trends magazine.
The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 14-28, 2015. The calling used Random Digit Dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity, and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.6 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.