Britons and Gender Identity

  • Research
  • 16 June 2022

Navigating Common Ground and Division 

‘Britons and Gender Identity: Navigating common ground and division’ is an in-depth analysis of the British public’s attitudes to gender identity and trans equality.  

Untitled Design

Based on polling of more than 5,000 people and 20 focus groups, the report finds that the divisive debate playing out in Westminster and social media is out of sync with the public’s approach to the issue – with only 2 percent thinking ‘the debate about transgender people’ is one of the most important issues facing the country. 

Instead of angry debates and Twitter pile ons, the public want a ‘live and let live’ approach to trans people and case-by-case solutions not blanket policies. Most are aware of the issues involved, a quarter know someone who is transgender, and for most the starting points are compassion and common sense. More agree (46%) than disagree (32%) that a trans man is a man and a trans woman is a woman.  

From my point of view, let people get on with anything as long as you're not hurting anybody else

Most of the public (57 per cent) think that trans women should not be allowed to compete in women-only sporting events (with 19 per cent who think they should be allowed). Focus groups found that the public see this as an issue of a level-playing field and the physical advantages that men have in some sports, but also looked for opportunities for trans people to compete in sports.  

But when it comes to things like sports and stuff, I find that really difficult to know what the answer is and who has the right answer

The public are keen that schools create environments where young people who are questioning their gender identity feel supported and want schools to proactively talk about trans people. Though many are concerned about young people making life altering decisions (such as taking cross-sex hormones before the age of 18) without thorough medical assessment and advice.  

When it comes to single sex spaces, the public distinguish between those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery and those who have not. Most either support or are indifferent about introducing more unisex toilets in most places, but there is less support in schools.  

The report calls for a coalition of the willing to build on this public consensus as a way to defuse the elite debate – making the following ten recommendations:  

  • Emphasise the public’s shared starting points  
  • Build upon areas of consensus  
  • Embrace case by case approach 
  • Magnify experiences of those finding a way through
  • Acknowledge the progress made
  • Put elite sport in perspective 
  • Create space for discussion 
  • Listen to those worried about the pace of change 
  • Stop bad faith actors framing the discussion 
  • Remember this is a debate about people 
From the toxic debate playing out across social media you’d assume the country is split into trans activists and transphobes, those who want to protect women’s rights, and those working to undermine them. But when you actually speak to ordinary people in communities across the country you realise that nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, most Britons take a nuanced, compassionate approach, that is rooted in society doing what it can to make trans people feel accepted and comfortable – including calling them by their preferred pronouns and tackling discrimination – but which also balances inclusion with fairness, particularly on the issue of women’s sport. Those involved in the debate about trans equality, both activists and commentators, would do well to take the time to listen to the views of ordinary Britons - their common ground, common sense starting points provide the opportunity to douse the flames of this divisive debate and make meaningful progress that makes trans people’s lives better

Luke Tryl, UK Director