In a closed-door meeting last week, Ben Carson, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, made controversial remarks that angered many transgender people and LGBTQ rights activists.
In fact, after the remarks were made, many Democrats began calling for Carson to resign. Many of the 50 HUD staffers who attended the meeting in San Francisco were upset, and three people who attended the meeting said at least one woman walked out in protest of his comments, according to The Washington Post.
The comments in question? Carson reportedly made reference to women’s shelters accepting “big, hairy men” without questioning their gender. He stressed that society no longer knows the difference between men and women, and said no one group deserved special rights.
But Carson sent a note out to staff Friday in an attempt to clarify his remarks. The Post shared some of that note:
“During a recent meeting with local staff in San Francisco, I made reference to the fact that I had heard from many women’s groups about the difficulty they were having with women’s shelters because sometimes men would claim to be women, and that HUD’s policy required the shelter to accept — without question — the word of whoever came in, regardless of what their manifested physical characteristics appeared to be. This made many of the women feel unsafe, and one of the groups described a situation to me in which ‘big hairy men’ would come in and have to be accepted into the women’s shelter even though it made the women in the facility very uncomfortable. My point was that we have to permit policies that take into consideration the rights of everybody, including those women — many of which have suffered at the hands of male domestic abusers — who believe there are men who might hurt them. Our society is in danger when we pick one issue (such as gender identity) and say it does not matter how it impacts others because this one issue should override every other common-sense consideration. I think we have to look out for everyone, and we need to use our intellectual capabilities to find common good rather than attempting to always stir up controversy through identity politics.”
But for many, this explanation wasn’t enough, and some said it even made his original comments worse.
From the Post article:
“Suggesting the department should adopt a policy that prioritizes someone’s discomfort over another person’s right to shelter validates bigoted ideas about transgender women and the frankly ludicrous idea that ‘big, hairy men’ pretend to be women in order to harm cisgender women,” said one HUD staffer who heard his comments in San Francisco.
And prominent Democrats, including some running for president, are criticizing Carson’s comments.
“Secretary Carson's transphobic remarks are completely unacceptable,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Former HUD Secretary and presidential candidate Julian Castro also chimed in, saying, “19 black trans women have been killed this year because comments like Ben Carson’s normalize violence against them. As HUD Secretary, I protected trans people, I didn’t denigrate them.”
In an appearance with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Carson explained that HUD must have policies in place that, “take care of everybody’s rights. Everybody gets equal rights, nobody gets extra rights.”
He explained he had heard from women within the women’s shelters that were uncomfortable with policies that required shelters to accept a person’s designation of their gender regardless of their physical characteristics.
“In terms of that broad definition of gender being whatever you say it is, we’re going to leave that to the local jurisdictions,” Carson said. “Federal government doesn’t need to be telling people who is a man and who is a woman. That’s a decision they can make by themselves.”
Carson explained that HUD’s mission is to serve all people. He said it will serve transgender people, but not at the expense of someone else’ safety – in this case, the safety of women at the shelters.
“I’ve offered transgender groups to let me know what their solution would be so that everybody’s rights are observed,” Carson said. “I haven’t heard one peep.”