LAWRENCE, Kan. — While transgender rights are firmly slotted in the forefront of the current political debate, actual transgender politicians have found themselves largely operating under-the-radar.
Yet a new study, published in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities, suggests that transgender political candidates face enormous obstacles to success, with the general public more likely to discriminate against such individuals.
Researchers at the University of Kansas recently released findings signalling that anywhere between 35% and 40% of adults would be against a transgender individual simply running for office. This figure is significantly higher than the percentage who would oppose a candidate running on the grounds of being gay or lesbian, which stands at 30%.
“Transgender candidates are likely to face more opposition than lesbian, gay or bisexual candidates, and the margins could potentially mean the difference between victory and defeat,” warns Don Haider-Markel, the study’s lead author, in a university release.
The researchers claim that their study is the first to directly examine the public perception of transgender political candidates. Their conclusions were based on results from a 2015 survey on the matter.
Generally, those who are Democrats, less religious, more affluent, and more educated are more likely to support a transgender candidate. In addition, females are more likely to be supportive of a transgender politician than males.
Because of this, “transgender candidates have to be strategic in where and when they choose to run for office,” Haider-Markel argues.
One notable transgender politician is Jess Herbst— formerly Jeff—who is the mayor of New Hope, Texas. She took over for the former mayor in 2016, after his unexpected death.
Still, it’s important to note that Herbst was already in office by the point she underwent hormone conversion therapy, which she disclosed to her constituents.
“It’s reflective of what we’re likely to see with transgender public officials,” says Haider-Markel. “It’s not typical to have a transgender candidate running as openly transgender — like we saw with gay and lesbian candidates years earlier — but essentially revealing or outing themselves while they are in office. Some people say that seems dishonest, but public opinion research suggests that strategically that’s a good idea right now.”
Haider-Markel says transgender adults represent roughly around 0.5 percent of the entire U.S population, “which makes it a significant case on studying how a democracy treats a small minority population.”