Ben Carson invoked tropes of “big, hairy men” invading women’s bathrooms in shelters and mourned a past when there were “just women and just men” in comments at least three staffers found to be transphobic.
That’s according to the Washington Post, which reports that the three staffers requested anonymity fearing retaliation.
An official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, over which Carson presides as HUD secretary, pushed back on the staffers’ characterizations, telling the Post:
Carson was referring to men who pretend to be women to gain access to battered women’s shelters—and not singling out transgender women as “big, hairy men.”
“The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”
The staffers, who indicated that Carson made the remarks during an internal meeting Tuesday at HUD’s San Francisco office, said that HUD’s characterization of what Carson intended was not apparent to them.
They told the Post that Carson’s remarks were so upsetting that at least one woman voiced her objections before walking out.
Carson was in San Francisco as part of a Trump administration visit to California to address the state’s growing homelessness problem. The staffers said the problematic comments were made during a freewheeling commentary about HUD initiatives.
Just before making his remarks, one staffer told the news site, Carson said that “transgender people should get the same rights as everyone else, but they don’t get to change things for everybody else.”
He went on to indicate that operators of group single-sex shelters should be able to deny access to transgender people, the staffers said.
Advocates for transgender people called Carson’s reported comments “despicable,” and they aren’t buying HUD’s denials on his behalf.
As the Post notes:
“It’s gravely insulting to have the specter of violence from cis gender 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,” she 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.”