More Americans Say They Know a Trans Person—and That Can Save Lives

When you’re personally acquainted with someone, you tend to be more accepting, research shows.

Jazz Jennings. (Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Sep 17, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

From her Diane Sawyer interview to her Vanity Fair cover and educational docuseries, Caitlyn Jenner has become one of the most prominent celebrity faces of the transgender community. The cultural significance of her visibility in mainstream media has been largely underscored by one prominent statistic: About 8 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who is transgender, according to a 2008 GLAAD survey.

As it turns out, that number has doubled in the last seven years, according to a survey released by the organization on Thursday. Of the 2,000 adult participants, 16 percent now report personally knowing or working with someone who is transgender. LGBT advocates say that’s a good thing.

“We know that someone who personally knows a member of the LGBT community is much more likely to be accepting,” Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s CEO and president, said in a statement. She’s referring to the organization’s 2008 survey, which shows that when people know someone who is gay, they tend to have a more favorable attitude toward gays and lesbians overall.

UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that while gay and lesbian adults account for 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, transgender adults account for about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population. But many experts believe the number is much higher than statistics can account for. Part of the reason is that a majority of transgender people hide their gender identity or transition to avoid discrimination, according to a 2011 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“At a time when transgender people still face staggering rates of discrimination, poverty, and violence, it is crucial that we continue to increase visibility and accelerate acceptance of trans people everywhere,” Ellis said. Ninety percent of respondents in the 2011 survey reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work, and 19 percent said they were refused medical care because of their transgender or gender nonconforming status.
Per the GLAAD survey, the number of people who reported knowing someone who is transgender skewed highest for millennials—27 percent—compared with people over the age of 45. In the latter group, the statistic still hovers around 9 percent. The finding suggests younger people are also more likely to be accepting of LGBT people—and not just the celebrity teens they see on TV, such as Jazz Jennings.

When it comes to transgender visibility, geographic location matters too. People who live in the West were nearly twice as likely to know or work with someone who is transgender than people who live in the Northeast. Surprisingly, residents of the South and Midwest scored slightly higher than those who live in the Northeast when it comes to knowing a transgender person.

But even as more people report working with and befriending transgender people, media representation doesn’t become any less important. Eighty-four percent of the people surveyed said they still relied on media—presumably TV shows such as I Am Cait and I Am Jazz—to educate themselves about the transgender community at large.

For that reason, GLAAD spokesperson Nick Adams says, “it’s crucial that the media increase and improve the coverage of transgender issues, and that transgender people have the opportunity to tell their own stories about our lives and the issues we face.”