Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, angered HUD staffers this week by making anti-transgender remarks during a meeting, The Washington Post reports.
Carson, a former presidential candidate with a long record of anti-LGBTQ comments and stances, said in the San Francisco meeting this week that he was worried about “big, hairy men” seeking to enter women’s shelters, staff members told the Post. He “also lamented that society no longer seemed to know the difference between men and women,” the paper reports.
“Carson’s remarks visibly shocked and upset many of the roughly 50 HUD staffers who attended Tuesday’s meeting, and prompted at least one woman to walk out in protest, the staffers said,” according to the Post article, published Thursday afternoon.
He has mocked trans people during HUD meetings in Washington, D.C., as well, one agency official said. “His overall tone is dismissive and joking about these people,” the official, who was not identified by name, told the Post. “It’s disrespectful of the people we are trying to serve.”
A HUD spokesperson gave the Post a statement denying that Carson ever used anti-trans language. “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson, who was not present at the San Francisco meeting, said Carson was referring to men pretending to be women, not transgender women specifically.
But one staffer who was at the meeting said, “The sentiment conveyed was these were not women, and they should not be housed in single-sex shelters — like we shouldn’t force people to accept transgender people in this context because it makes other people uncomfortable.” All those who were at the meeting spoke anonymously, saying they feared retaliation.
And Carson has a documented history of hostility to trans people and LGBTQ people in general. In May, HUD unveiled a proposed rule change that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funding to house trans people according to their birth gender, not their gender identity. If it becomes final, the rule would reverse a policy adopted by President Barack Obama’s administration, which called for federally funded shelters to house people according to their gender identity. Under his leadership, HUD has also rescinded guidelines banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in its programs.
In 2015, he endorsed the idea of separate public restrooms for trans people. In 2016, he dismissed trans individuals as “a few people who perhaps are abnormal” and said that assuring their equal treatment amounted to “extra rights,” and he reiterated the “extra rights” remark in his confirmation hearing in 2017.
He is a longtime opponent of marriage equality and has equated same-sex marriage with bestiality and pedophilia. He has even said a U.S. president has the constitutional right to ignore Supreme Court rulings on the matter.
He also has said sexual orientation is a choice because men who are otherwise straight have sex with other men in prison. He has asserted that LGBTQ parents are not of “equal value” to straight ones. And he believes businesses and elected officials should have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Trans rights advocates said Carson’s reported comments showed he was buying into harmful, baseless stereotypes of trans women as predators. “It’s a mythical notion that policies that are inclusive of transgender people somehow pose a threat,” Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Post. “It’s frankly despicable that such a harmful notion would be used by someone charged with facilitating programs meant to help people in need, many of whom are transgender.”