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Poll on gender issues gives atheists bragging rights

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Poll on gender issues gives atheists bragging rights
Photo Credit – Mathias Wasik

We atheists and agnostics have a lot to brag about when it comes to progressive values. And a recent poll about attitudes toward binary/nonbinary status provides us even more bragging material.

We already are the strongest supporters of abortion rights. Nonreligious Americans are “the new abortion voters,” according to FiveThirtyEight. A deep dive into a recent survey discloses something else to feel proud about.

Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which does immense public service in conducting regular opinion polls on the intersection of religion and politics, released a major study last month on attitudes by the American public about gender, pronouns and public education. The poll shows that Americans have a ways to go with acceptance of gender identities, with 65 percent saying there are only two gender identities compared to 34 percent acknowledging more than two.

As usual, white evangelical Protestants at 92 percent were the largest group to say there are only two genders. The next largest group are Republicans, at 90 percent, contrasting with Democrats, only 44 percent of whom say there are merely two.

I was a little surprised, however, to see that the religiously unaffiliated, affectionately known as “the Nones,” who tend to be among the most progressive when it comes to social policy, didn’t come off quite as well as usual in this particular study. PRRI found that almost half, 46 percent, of religiously unaffiliated say there are only two genders. This still makes the “Nones” the second-largest sector by religious identification in acceptance of nonbinary, trailing only Jewish, for whom 44 percent said there are but two genders.

Since the announcement did not break down the religiously unaffiliated category, I wondered how atheists and agnostics fared. So I emailed Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s president and founder, to ask whether there was any breakdown in data on how atheists and agnostics as a subset of “Nones” come out on the binary/nonbinary question.

Jones obligingly responded with an excel sheet documenting that breakdown, writing, “Your hunch is correct,” and giving me permission to use the numbers with citation. Thank you, Robby.

So here’s that breakdown:

Atheists are by far the most supportive of a range of genders, at 70 percent. Remember, this contrasts with 34 percent of Americans overall who say there is a range. This means an atheist is more than twice as likely as an average American to support gender diversity. A mere 15 percent of atheists strongly believe there are only two genders.

Agnostics come next, with 64 percent agreeing there’s a range of genders. Just 16 percent of agnostics strongly contend there are only two genders.

When looking at responses grouped by other than religion, atheists at 70 percent top all other groups, even beating out Generation Z, 47 percent of whom said there are only two genders.

Why are atheists so accepting of gender fluidity? One answer is that it’s such an advantage to cast off (or never have been indoctrinated with) black-and-white biblical admonishments calling women who wear men’s clothes and vice versa “abominations” — not to mention commanding the killing of gays. Atheists aren’t trapped by authoritarian dogma. Patsy, my formerly fundamentalist mother-in-law, made such a poignant remark when she realized this: “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

One of our very dear FFRF members came up to me once and told me that he never forgot how “we were treated just like everybody else!” when he and his partner first attended an FFRF convention in the late 1970s. I had to blink back a few tears when I considered the pain and unhappy life experiences lying behind such a delighted remark.

Christian nationalists are cynically and viciously ramping up hatred and discrimination against a minority population of LGBTQ individuals, particularly the population of vulnerable nonbinary and trans children and teenagers. Fear, despair and heartbreak are resulting from laws just passed in 20 states forcing families with transgender children to search for medical care across state lines. “We are seeing this new class of political refugees that are moving to different states because they believe that they’re not safe in their own,” points out Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. It’s tragic. It’s unacceptable.

Let’s hear it for Team Atheist. But we must work even harder in our Divided States of America to ensure that people are valued more than dogma.

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