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Americans Are Divided Over Whether Transgender People Should Be In The Military


The Pentagon, today, will begin enforcing a new policy that effectively bans transgender people from joining the military. Transgender people already serving will not be affected, like Army Captain Alivia Stehlik. She told us the new restrictions don't reflect what's happening on the ground.

ALIVIA STEHLIK: You know, I just got back from Afghanistan. There is already no question about whether we can serve with distinction in all areas of the world, in all austere environments. But in the meantime, it's going to be a struggle for us to continue. We're going to continue to fight this fight to allow everyone to be able to serve openly.

GREENE: Now, polls show Americans are divided on this issue. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in February shows nearly 60 percent of Americans support transgender people serving. Another poll of current and former military members shows more than 60 percent are opposed. Political scientist Delton Daigle of George Mason University took that survey, along with Smithsonian Magazine and the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

DELTON DAIGLE: The one that we took, you know, clearly was very focused on the military community. And even while we have a number of civilians - that might be contractors or family members of service members - generally, we would still find them less supportive than as was found in the Ipsos poll.

However, there are differences even within our own poll if we just separate it into those who had served in the military and those who had not. About 53 percent of our non-military respondents were supportive of transgender in the military, compared to about 39 percent of those who had or are currently serving in the military.

GREENE: What was the average age of your polling? I mean, are we talking about a lot of veterans or are there a lot of younger people who might be in the military now?

DAIGLE: The average age in our survey was 62 years old.

GREENE: Oh, I see. So it's an older group.

DAIGLE: It is absolutely an older group.

GREENE: The White House cites concerns, saying that allowing more transgender people in the military would negatively affect unit cohesion. I just wonder, you know, given some of the facts you're telling me about your polling sample - I mean, that there are a lot of older people, a lot of veterans. I mean, can we draw any conclusions about something like that from your data?

DAIGLE: So when you look at the data and you look at support for transgender in the military, it increases the younger people get. In fact, for every 10 years younger, you could think of support increasing by about 3 percent. So the difference between a 70-year-old and a 20-year-old within our sample is about a 15-point difference in their support for transgender in the military.

So the perception of cohesion - or the perception of the risk to cohesion decreases with younger people. So people who are actively serving in the military today, I would infer, you know, are less likely to see it as a problem.

GREENE: And your poll actually asked respondents to write some explanations for their answers. What kinds of things did they write down?

DAIGLE: There are a number of responses that kind of pick up on the buzzwords that the media are using, particularly, you know, the right-wing media, who've been using words like social experiment or social engineering. But there are a number of tangential ones that also kind of might not directly refer to LGBTQ communities or, you know, this particular issue. But you could probably infer that they might be kind of getting at that.

For example, a retired military member said standards drop in order to ensure political correctness, you know, or becoming too soft and overly concerned about hurt feelings and political correctness. So there are a number of responses where you can kind of guess that, you know, today's military and its shifting culture might be having an impact. And, you know, this is probably captured within this broader shift in culture.

GREENE: Delton Daigle is a political scientist at George Mason University Schar School of Public Policy and Government. Thanks so much for joining us.

DAIGLE: Oh, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.