“Where does the British public stand on transgender rights in 2022?”
That was the title of a recent YouGov poll, which asked the British public a series of questions regarding transgender people’s equality and human rights.
Though we know little about the personal lives of the 1,751 adults surveyed, when asked if they knew anyone transgender, 1% answered “I am transgender myself” – so it’s safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of participants were cisgender. The result? A poll offering a predominately cisgender view of transgender lives.
The actual results were mixed. While most Brits said they’ve paid “little to no attention to the trans rights debate”, the research concluded that support for trans access rights has “eroded since 2018”.
Notably, trans people have been left out of the conversation. So to address that, I reached out to some transgender educators, activists and writers, to see what they think about the results.
The first thing Katy Montgomerie, 33, from South West England, noticed about the poll was how knowing trans people and learning about our issues leads to more support for trans equality.
Acceptance of a person’s ability to change their social gender stands at 80% among those with a trans friend or family member, for example, but it falls to 49% among those who do not know any trans people.
“This shows what we’ve been saying for years: the opposition to trans rights is largely just ignorance about our lives,” says Montgomerie, a feminist, LGBTQ+ rights activist and YouTuber. “The people leading the charge against our rights simply don’t know what they are talking about.”
As a trans woman, Montgomerie tells me the results of polls like this are “disappointing and scary”.
“We are just normal people trying to live our lives,” she says. “Every trans person in the UK at the moment is living in a state of fear, and we don’t even have the platforms to put forward our side of things.”
She believes “propaganda in the media” is to blame for the overall decrease in support for access rights since 2018 – a problem also highlighted by Meryl Links from the Trans Safety Network (TSN).
Montgomerie says “the public are being failed by the media” on transgender issues, because many publications are “unable or unwilling to represent trans voices, instead favouring sensationalised pieces trying to create scandals”.
Links says the poll underlines “a real need for factual and representative reporting on issues facing the trans community” because “it should not be incumbent on individual trans people to inform and educate the public”.
I also spoke to jane fae, the chair of Trans Media Watch, a UK organisation advocating for accuracy and respect when reporting on trans lives. She’s filed a formal complaint accusing YouGov of including “misleading” questions within the survey. For example, the public were asked if they thought “gender reassignment surgery” should be available to under 16s. In reality, transitional surgeries are only available to those 18 and above.
Fae is concerned “the asking of questions about alarmist scenarios that no-one is advocating is clearly designed to shape opinion on the broader issue rather than contribute to meaningful debate”.
TSN also raised concerns about the lack of context and supporting information surrounding the survey questions, saying this “rendered the answers to some questions on specific policies or proposals difficult to meaningfully parse”.
Responding to these complaints, YouGov told HuffPost UK: “YouGov always endeavours to explore topics in good faith so that people can understand what the world thinks. Our survey was designed to explore Briton’s views towards this issue and, as with all of our research, is not designed to serve any agenda.”
For journalist and former council candidate Arthur Webber, 24, from London, the survey findings simply highlight “the confusion and misinformation that the general public are getting from media coverage of trans issues”.
″[The public] are now more in favour of demedicalising the GRA [Gender Recognition Act] process and removing the ’lived in role’ requirement than they were years ago, but also say they they are against making it easier to change gender legally – which those two things would do,” he says.
On the personal impact of reading the survey, he adds: “It’s very difficult to see progress reversing when it relates to your human rights.”
Despite the poll’s finding that knowing a trans person was more likely to make a person inclusive, Webber says he’s seen several people who he had considered friends “become radicalised and all consumed by anti-trans hate”.
“It happens so fast and it’s difficult to stop the spiral,” he adds. “If not even having a trans friend can stop it, what can? It’s upsetting, to say the least.”
Similarly Eva Echo, 42, from Birmingham, an educator, public speaker and activist, praises the reported support amongst those familiar with trans people, but immediately laments that this support seems to never materialise when we need it.
“Where are their emails or calls to MPs over our inclusion? Where are these people who can step in when we’re being attacked in the street? Where is the solidarity when we’re refused employment just for being ourselves? Saying that they support us is one thing, but words won’t save us – only action will.
“More people are willing to support trans rights if they knew a trans person – so get to know us.”
Echo calls on the media to “stop gatekeeping trans joy and positivity,” pointing out that despite near-constant coverage of trans issues, this poll has not been widely circulated at all.
“One thing is clear about the release of the YouGov report: the media is corrupt and has its own agenda - it clearly isn’t on our side,” she says.
An article from The Guardian earlier this year stated that “trans people’s mental health is at crisis point” in an warning from experts. As a trans woman, I was not surprised.
Every day, trans folk have to figure out transphobia on a national scale, whilst also navigating any other issues they may have in their personal lives too. For me, this latest YouGov poll is yet another example.
Katy Montgomerie, however, does offer some bittersweet hope, likening the current media landscape to the media’s anti-gay reporting 20–30 years ago, including when papers ran headlines suggesting lesbians like Martina Navratilova posed a risk to your daughters in changing rooms.
“Not many people knew a gay person, then the British media went to war with gay people and public support dropped, and then as more and more people started to know a gay person in their personal lives support grew,” she says.
So to answer the question: where does the British public stand on transgender rights in 2022? In trans people’s opinion, the answer is on the fence watching, while the British media and assorted politicians take turns on our necks.
There is a glimmer of hope here being that despite constant anti-trans coverage, those paying attention and who know us are not as easy to radicalise as those who aren’t. Which is nice, but clearly does little to soothe the toll of having to engage in constant activism for our basic human rights.
Update: this article has been updated for clarity to reflect that 1% of people surveyed by YouGov identified as transgender.