Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
Last week, after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for charges including violations of the Espionage Act, Manning released a statement identifying himself as Chelsea and indicating a desire to transition from male to female. Since Manning’s announcement, there has been significant media attention about transgender issues, including definitions, pronoun use, and prison accommodations. Most Americans say they have a basic understanding of the term “transgender,” according to PRRI data. Seven-in-ten (70%) Americans say they know the meaning of the term transgender; 67% of Americans feel they are well informed about transgender people and issues. However, only about 1-in-10 (11%) Americans have a close friend or family member who identifies as transgender.
In addition to Americans saying they are aware of transgender issues, the majority of Americans support the extension of basic legal rights to people who are transgender. Almost 9-in-10 (89%) Americans agree that people who are transgender deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. Eight-in-10 (81%) Americans believe that legal protections that apply to gay and lesbian people should also apply to people who are transgender. Three-quarters (75%) of Americans believe Congress should pass laws to protect people who are transgender from job discrimination.