Why the largest transgender survey ever could be a powerful rebuke to myths, misinformation

When Ashton Holmes saw the results of the largest-ever transgender survey in the U.S., the data elicited ripples of joy: “It made my heart happy.”

The survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality of over 92,000 binary and nonbinary transgender people offers a window into a world often clouded by misconceptions. Nearly all respondents – 94% − said they were satisfied with their lives after transitioning.

Holmes, 39, a Black transgender man who navigates life with a “let’s love on each other” philosophy, says the statistics give powerful proof “that people are satisfied when they are seen, when they are affirmed.”

Transgender advocates are hoping the data not only shows that validation − but also cuts through a tornado of misinformation about transgender people that has swirled in the past few years.

“This survey is tremendously significant for the quality, the quantity and frankly the timing,” says Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. “We could not need this more than we do right now.”

Rights of transgender people are in the crosshairs

The survey, released earlier this month. lands as the rights of transgender people continue to be in the crosshairs: About 130 bills targeting the community have been filed in 2024 in statehouses, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Last year saw 225 bills.

As the community, particularly youths, “face increased attacks on our ability to access health care, public facilities and other fundamental aspects of life, these findings serve as a critical resource,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, which conducted the U.S. Trans Survey in partnership with other groups. The center is a national organization that advocates for the understanding and acceptance of transgender people.

The survey also showed that nearly all respondents, or 98%, reported that receiving hormone treatments for their transition resulted in greater satisfaction with their lives.

And nearly half – 47% − said they have considered moving to another state because their state passed or was weighing legislation that targeted transgender people for unequal treatment.

Renna said the data is going to be a “101 for allies” – those who have transgender people in their lives and have questions. “Instead of having them find a sea of misinformation, myths and stereotypes, they are going to find the lived realities of trans people.”

Ashton Holmes celebrates the first day of the 2023-2024 school year in Dayton, Ohio, where he works as a fluency tutor for kindergarten and first grade. He also works part time as a Beyond D&I facilitator.
Ashton Holmes celebrates the first day of the 2023-2024 school year in Dayton, Ohio, where he works as a fluency tutor for kindergarten and first grade. He also works part time as a Beyond D&I facilitator.

Real-world data to help support families

Laura Hoge, a clinical social worker in New Jersey who works with transgender people and their families, said the survey results underscore what she sees in her daily practice: that lives improve when access to something as basic as gender-affirming care is not restricted.

“I see children who come here sometimes not able to go to school or are completely distanced from their friends,” she said. “And when they have access to care, they can go from not going to school to trying out for their school play.”

Every time misinformation about transgender people surfaces, Hoge says she is flooded with phone calls.

The survey now gives real-world data on the lived experiences of transgender people and how their lives are flourishing, she said. “I can tell you that when I talk to families I am able to say to them: This is what other people in your child’s situation or in your situation are saying.”

Gender-affirming care has been a target of state bills

Gender-affirming care, which can involve everything from talk sessions to hormone therapy, in many ways has been ground zero in recent legislative debates over the rights of transgender people.

A poll by the Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under 25, found that 85% of trans and nonbinary youths say even the debates about these laws have negatively impacted their mental health.

In January, the Ohio Senate overrode the governor’s veto of legislation that restricted medical care for transgender young people.

The bill prohibits doctors from prescribing hormones, puberty blockers, or gender reassignment surgery before patients turn 18 and requires mental health providers to get parental permission to diagnose and treat gender dysphoria.

Backers of the bill said it was needed to protect the state’s children. One lawmaker, state Sen. Kristina Roegner, disputed whether transgender people even exist: “There is no such thing as gender-affirming care. You can’t affirm something that doesn’t exist," she said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state restricts gender-affirming care, also has said “a lot of the dysphoria resolves itself by the time” young people become adults.

Transgender advocates say not only are those kinds of statements false, but they also make the case for the urgency of the national survey.

“It is astounding that people can say things like that,” Renna said. ”That’s why you need this, why you need data − especially when what you are dealing with is not just ignorance: It is a concerted effort to erase transgender and nonbinary people.”

A 'coordinated campaign that is good at confusing people'

Heng-Lehtinen says many of the anti-transgender policies in states are based on “fearmongering” to “exploit the public’s relative unfamiliarity with transgender people.”

Some organizations use names that appear to be legitimate and can mislead the public, Hoge said, citing one such example: The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), which has a name similar to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

AAP, which was founded in 1930 and has about 67,000 members, is a major medical association and one that supports gender-affirming care.

ACPeds, which was founded in 2002 and says it has about 600 members, has been designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group links gender incongruence on its website with mental illness.

When asked to comment on whether the national transgender survey refutes claims made by ACPeds, past president Quentin Van Meter said the group supports the belief that “realigning the personal identity and physical body to accommodate an incongruent gender identity” in youths can cause harm.

Other major medical groups – from the American Medical Association to the American Psychiatric Association – disagree and have lined up in support of gender-affirming care and against bills that criminalize it in recent years.

Hoge says it is a pivotal time to call out entities that push debunked science. “There is a very coordinated and strategic campaign that is good at confusing people. You have these very confusing named organizations that sound reputable,” she said. “But it’s connected to a larger movement that has strong ties to anti-LGBTQ sentiments.”

Misinformation 'dehumanizes' transgender people

Holmes left his South Carolina roots for Ohio in 2020. The Dayton resident says he has been fortunate to find resources to help with his transition, from medical to legal.

Believing people’s stories is crucial, Holmes says. He recalls his first meeting with an endocrinologist who told him to “just talk” – which he did for almost an hour. The doctor then told him: “I believe you, and I’m going to help you.”

He also points to “misconceptions” about what it means to be transgender. “We aren’t a monolith. Who I am as a person is not the same as some of my other trans siblings.”

Holmes says he knows there are times when he is the first transgender person someone has met, and his motto is just to “be human to them.” He will hear a familiar response of “well I didn’t know.” His answer: “You aren’t supposed to know.”

That is why the national transgender survey is so significant, he said. Misinformation “dehumanizes us,” he said. “When we can come together and respect and value each other, this is what this does: We have people that are happy. If can make this path, this road a little bit easier for this person, let’s do it. Let people have experiences they thought they could never have.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Transgender survey: Can the largest ever rebuke myths, misinformation?