Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, reportedly referred to transgender women as “big, hairy men” during a rant about trans women accessing women’s homeless shelters.
That’s according to The Washington Post, who spoke to three people present at a HUD meeting with Carson and understood the comments to be aimed at trans women.
Carson told staffers at an HUD office in San Francisco that he was concerned about “big, hairy men” trying to enter women’s shelters, and “lamented that society no longer seemed to know the difference between men and women,” the Post reports.
According to the Post, around 50 people were present at the internal meeting, with many left “visibly shocked and upset” after he made the anti-transgender comments, and at least one person walking out of the meeting in protest.
Far from an abnormal occurrence, Carson also repeatedly mocks transgender people during HUD meetings in Washington, according to a government official who spoke anonymously to the Post.
“His overall tone is dismissive and joking about these people,” the official said. “It’s disrespectful of the people we are trying to serve.”
In a statement, a HUD official denied the reports, saying Carson “does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”
The official said Carson was discussing men who pretend to be women in order to access shelters, and was not describing transgender women.
But staffers at the meeting said that wasn’t the way in which Carson presented the comments, with one person present at the meeting saying his comments “sounded like a slur to me.”
Another staffer 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.”
Under Carson, HUD has sought to rollback protections for transgender people, particularly homeless transgender women.
In May this year, the department announced plans to allow federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender women.
Last year, Carson invoked the “trans shower panic” tactic to justify denying access to shelters to transgender people, inferring that transgender people in showers are a threat to safety and privacy.
“There are some women who said they were not comfortable with the idea of being in a shelter, of being in a shower, and somebody who had a very different anatomy,” Carson told a congressional committee in 2018.
He was also heavily criticized last year after HUD removed language from its mission statement which committed to ensuring LGBTQ people would be “free from discrimination.”
Carson is no stranger to anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. During his confirmation hearing prior to becoming HUD secretary, he called LGBTQ rights “extra rights.”
He has also compared being transgender to changing ethnicity, said trans rights are “not a civil rights issue,” said transgender people should be forced to use separate bathrooms, blamed gay marriage for the fall of the Roman Empire, said that prisons prove homosexuality is a choice (something he later apologized for), and insisted that biological sex is immutable, calling the concept of being transgender “the height of absurdity.”
LGBTQ organizations were quick to denounce Carson for his alleged comments during the HUD meeting, with Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, telling the Post his description of transgender women was “frankly despicable.”
“It’s a mythical notion that policies that are inclusive of transgender people somehow pose a threat,” Branstetter said. “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.”
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement that Carson’s comments were par for the course for those in the Trump administration.
“This is what Donald Trump’s cabinet officials do,” he said. “Ben Carson has spent his career in politics expressing disgust toward the existence of transgender people. From his comments on trans people in the military to his support for a proposal that would literally permit emergency shelters to turn away trans people who are homeless to his unqualified support for a White House that has made attacking trans people a mantra, it is hardly surprising that Ben Carson would blatantly dehumanize trans people in his official capacity.
“From day one, the Trump-Pence administration has made it clear that the cruelty of their words and actions is the point, and during a year in which at least 19 transgender people — 18 of them Black trans women — have been killed in the United States, these remarks serve to only exacerbate this crisis, further dehumanizing the most vulnerable among us. The tens of millions of Equality Voters in this country are going to hold this administration accountable next year.”