Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made disparaging comments about transgender folks during recent meetings with his staff, prompting some employees to vocally speak out against him and others to storm out of the room in protest, according to the Washington Post.
Carson, shockingly tapped to lead HUD in 2017 despite spending his career as a brain surgeon and after a sleepy-eyed bid for the Republican presidential nomination the year before, rambled to his staff about “big, hairy men” invading women’s homeless shelters, the Washington Post reported, citing folks who were present in the meetings.
Aides, according to the report, also said the transphobic HUD secretary complained that folks these days don’t know the difference between men and women and he reminisced about the days when, according to him, there were only two genders. He further made an apparent swipe at transgender rights, telling staffers he believes in equality but not “special rights.”
One person told the Washington Post that Carson specifically said single-sex shelters should be able to turn away transgender people. That source contrasted the secretary’s rhetoric in internal meetings with the way he more carefully chooses his words when speaking to members of Congress.
“He’s more tactful when he’s talking before Congress, whereas this sounded like a slur to me,” the unidentified source stated.
The staffers were so distraught when Carson declared that gender identity has been “static” for “thousands of years” that one woman stood up to challenge him. Carson merely acknowledged her statement and continued on with his rambling lecture, the Post reported.
Carson’s comments came months after HUD introduced a proposal in May to give shelters receiving federal funds the right to reject admission to trans folks. The proposed rule would give those facilities the right to use reasons such as privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs, gender identity, and the sex on a person’s ID to justify rejecting applicants.
Such a policy would scrap an Obama era guidance regarding the treatment of transgender folks at homeless shelters, and staffers say Carson’s rhetoric has become more explicitly transphobic over time, according to the Post.
HUD officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Carson’s statements on September 20, but a spokesperson used the insensitive term “transgendered” in response to inquiries from the Washington Post.
“The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals,” the spokesperson said. “Any reporting to the contrary is false.”
The news generated wide condemnation from advocacy groups and lawmakers. The National Center for Transgender Equality on September 20 tweeted about Carson’s alleged statements, saying, “We’re not brain surgeons or anything, but Sec. Carson, a former neurosurgeon, should listen to the staffers in HUD who’ve dedicated their lives to helping people access safe housing.”
Carson’s predecessor, Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, also responded to the Washington Post story and said foul language about transgender folks contributes to the marginalization of that community
“19 Black trans women have been killed this year because comments like Ben Carson’s normalize violence against them,” Castro’s tweet stated. “As HUD Secretary, I protected trans people, I didn’t denigrate them.”