Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson insulted transgender women during a meeting at HUD’s San Francisco office this week, referring to them as “big, hairy men,” according to three staffers who were present.
According to two agency staffers, speaking to The Washington Post on conditions of anonymity, Carson also complained that society no longer knew how to differentiate between men and women at Tuesday’s meeting, claiming in the old days there were “just women and just men.” He also argued that single-sex shelters should have the right to turn away transgender people.
Carson allegedly continued by saying protecting the rights of trans people was tantamount to “special rights,” and that trans people “should get the same rights as everyone else, but they don’t get to change things for everybody else.”
The comments upset many of the roughly 50 staffers in attendance, according to The Post, including one woman who walked out in protest. Another stood up and challenged his assertion that gender definitions have been static for thousands for years, asking him to reconsider his position, which is said to have drawn applause from her colleagues. Carson thanked her for her comment and then moved on.
“His overall tone is dismissive and joking about these people,” said one official, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s disrespectful of the people we are trying to serve.”
A HUD senior official, who wished to remain anonymous due to not being present at the meeting, released a statement saying: “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”
The official claimed Carson was referring to men who pretend to be women in order to gain access to shelters, not trans women, but those present in the meeting said that was not clear from his statements.
This is not the first time Carson has shown himself to be transphobic. He has also allegedly made anti-trans comments during HUD meetings in Washington, and while running for president, he characterized trans people as “abnormal.” He also argued their desire to use bathrooms matching their gender identity was “a bunch of garbage.” Carson has also been vocal in the past about his opposition to transgender people serving in the military, putting him in line with President Trump on the issue.
During questioning before Congress, Carson said he would fight to uphold the Equal Access Rule, which protects against discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the following day HUD proposed a policy to allow federally-funded shelters to refuse trans people on religious grounds.
Carson also oversaw the department as its official website removed links to guidelines informing emergency shelters how best to comply with agency regulations concerning serving the transgender population. Also under his leadership, HUD withdrew proposals that would have required agency-funded emergency shelters to post notices concerning the rights of LGTBQ persons, and how they are to be enforced to protect the community.
“It’s gravely insulting to have the specter of violence from cisgender men used to restrict the rights of transgender people who are ordinarily the victims of that violence,” said Gillian Branstetter, spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“It’s a mythical notion that policies that are inclusive of transgender people somehow pose a threat. 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.”
Studies have shown there is no link between such trans-inclusive policies and safety concerns.