Black Americans Firmly Support Gender Equality but Are Split on Transgender and Nonbinary Issues
Nearly six-in-ten want organizations working for Black progress to address the distinct challenges facing Black LGBTQ people
BY KIANA COX, PEW RESEARCH
Discussions about gender equality and feminism have a long history among Black Americans. Some hallmarks of this history are Maria Miller Stewart publicly affirming the place of Black women as abolitionist leaders in Boston in 1832; the Combahee River Collective’s formative statement on the intersection of race, gender, class and sexuality in 1977; Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991; and the ongoing discussions about how women are represented in rap music, both as subjects and performers of songs. These often-contentious debates raise questions about the relative importance of gender and other inequalities among Black Americans, given the long history of racial inequality in the United States.
To be sure, about six-in-ten non-Hispanic Black adults1 (62%) say Black people should prioritize the struggle against racism over other inequalities, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey of Black adults. Meanwhile, three-in-ten Black adults say the opposite: that racism should not be prioritized over other inequalities. Among the 30% who say racism should not be prioritized, most say this is because racism is just as important as other inequalities or that racism is interconnected with other inequalities.
Although most Black Americans view the fight against racism as their primary struggle for progress, they also support women’s equality and think feminism has been a positive force for women overall and for Black women specifically, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.
About eight-in-ten non-Hispanic Black adults say it is very important for women to have equal rights with men (79%). The majority of Black adults (76%) also say the feminist movement has done a great deal or a fair amount to advance women’s rights. And about half of Black adults say feminism has helped Black women (49%).
These findings stand in stark contrast to the contentious history that Black Americans have had with the feminist movement. Black women were relegated to the back of feminist marches in the 19th century, if not completely excluded. Black women redefined their approach to women’s equality, and even renamed it “womanism” to make it more inclusive of their needs and to reject the exclusion they had experienced in feminist organizations.
This history provides context for the findings of the 2020 survey, which indicate that about two-thirds (68%) of Black adults view feminism as empowering, but nearly half (48%) would not use the term “feminist” to describe themselves.
Black adults are split over how much society should accept transgender people
According to the Williams Institute, at least 1 million Black adults in the U.S. are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), making up 12% of the nation’s LGBT population. LGBT Black Americans are younger than non-LGBT Black adults, with nearly 60% under age 35 compared with 34% of non-LGBT Black adults. Women comprise a larger share of LGBT Black adults than of non-LGBT Black adults, and LGBT Black adults are slightly less likely to live in the South than the rest of the Black population.
Black LGBT and non-LGBT adults do not differ in their sense of belonging to their own race. Nearly half of both groups say they feel connected to Black communities. And 62% of Black lesbian, gay or bisexual adults and 29% of Black transgender adults say they feel a part of the larger LGBT community, the Williams Institute has found.
Still, over half of Black LGBT adults (55%) say the city or area they live in is not a good place for transgender people, and 39% say their areas are not safe for lesbian, gay or bisexual people. In fact, the majority of Black LGBT people say they have experienced verbal insults or abuse (79%) or have been threatened with violence (60%).
The social difficulties that Black LGBT people experience are reflected in Black Americans’ views on gender identity issues, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults. Only 13% of non-Hispanic Black adults say that U.S. society is extremely or very accepting of transgender people.
However, Black adults are split in their views on how accepting society should be. While 36% say society has not gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, 31% say the level of acceptance in society has been about right and 29% say it has gone too far. And while about four-in-ten Black adults (41%) say views about transgender people and issues are changing at the right speed, roughly a third (34%) say they are changing too quickly.
These divergent points of view exist alongside each other, demonstrating that Black Americans’ views on gender identity issues show much less consensus than their views on gender equality.
The findings in this report emerge from four Pew Research Center surveys of U.S. adults conducted from 2019 to 2022. Using multiple Center surveys provides a unique opportunity to summarize Black Americans’ views on gender equality and gender identity in the United States in the broadest scope. The report provides context for Black Americans’ views on and experiences with current issues of national importance, such as their majority disapproval of the overturning of Roe v. Wade (67%) and the disproportionate number of Black transgender and nonbinary people who experience fatal violence.
Here are other findings presented in this report:
Black Americans are critical of the progress of women’s equality in the U.S. About seven-in-ten Black adults (69%) say that the U.S. has not gone far enough in giving women equal rights with men. And among those who say this, a quarter say it’s not too or not at all likely that there will be equal rights between women and men in the future.
Black Americans are more likely to have egalitarian views about gender roles than their houses of worship. Black adults believe that mothers and fathers who live in the same household should share parenting (86%) and financial responsibilities (73%). However, the majority of Black Americans who attend religious services at least a few times a year say their congregations are more likely to emphasize men’s financial role in the family and involvement in Black communities as role models than women’s family and community roles.
Black Americans are more likely to know someone who is transgender or nonbinary than to identify as such themselves. About 1.4% of Black adults are transgender or nonbinary. However, 35% of Black adults say they know someone who is transgender. And among those who have heard at least a little about people who do not identify as a man or woman, 26% say they know someone who identifies this way.
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