Exclusive: Carson seeks to clean up testimony on protections for homeless transgender people

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonState AGs condemn HUD rule allowing shelters to serve people on basis of biological sex Biden cannot keep letting Trump set the agenda The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to New Hampshire after renomination speech MORE on Thursday sought to clarify his testimony to a House committee about the Trump administration’s plans to alter protections for homeless transgender people.

Lawmakers grilled Carson on Tuesday about whether his department planned to roll back an Obama-era rule ensuring homeless transgender people are allowed to stay in single-sex shelters that match their gender identity.

Carson told members of the House Financial Services Committee that he is “not currently anticipating changing” the Equal Access Rule. But one day later, HUD unveiled a proposed rule that would allow federally funded shelters to consider “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs” in deciding to admit a person, a change that critics say could result in discrimination against transgender people.

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In a letter to Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersPowell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Omar invokes father's death from coronavirus in reaction to Woodward book MORE (D-Calif.) and ranking member Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryCheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research MORE (R-N.C.), Carson said the department is considering changes to the 2016 final rule to address what he called “regulatory burdens for homelessness service providers.”

He said the 2012 version of the rule, which contains other protections for LGBTQ individuals, “is not being revised” and offered to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to further explain the changes.

“I abhor discrimination and want to assure you HUD is, and always will be, committed to protecting every person's right to access to our programs without fear or discrimination,” he wrote.

HUD is defending the proposed change despite blowback from critics, saying it will allow shelter providers “greater flexibility when making decisions about individuals who may misrepresent their sex to access female-specific or male-specific shelters.”

The administration believes that the current rule can be abused by people who might misrepresent their sex to gain access to certain shelters.

But Democrats and LGBTQ rights advocates say stripping away the protections could allow operators to deny access to certain people based on their religious beliefs, or force transgender women to use men’s facilities, including bathrooms.

“The federal government should not be telling local shelters how to best treat their clients. All discrimination — for any reason — is still illegal and will be enforced,” a senior HUD official said.

The discrepancy between Carson’s testimony and HUD’s action sparked an uproar among Democrats on Capitol Hill, who accused the agency chief of lying to Congress about the administration’s plans.

Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonThis week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's rally risk | Biden ramps up legal team | Biden hits Trump over climate policy Trump campaign knocks Biden event: 'All they could manage is a virtual event' MORE (D-Va.), who asked Carson about plans for the Equal Access Rule, called for his resignation, saying Thursday he has “proven himself to be deceitful and inept as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Carson said in a statement that he believed Wexton was referring to different parts of the Equal Access Rule.

“When I responded to the congresswoman’s question, I believed she was asking whether HUD was going to take away the anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ persons in the rule,” he said. “We are not, as I stated. I later realized she was asking a very technical question about the code of federal regulations on self-identified gender.”

Carson said he called Wexton to clarify his testimony and said “our intention is to stop treating sex and self-identified gender as the same, because I believe Washington shouldn’t be telling the rest of America how to determine whether someone is a man or a woman.”

Wexton's statement made it clear she called for Carson's resignation after taking his phone call.

Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, shelter operators that receive HUD funding may establish a policy that “considers an individual’s sex for the purposes of determining accommodation within such shelters and for purposes of determining sex for admission to any facility or portion thereof.” Any policy may must be “consistent with state and local law.”

Obama’s 2016 rule required operators “to provide equal access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with an individual’s gender identity.”

Ben Carson letter by M Mali on Scribd

--Updated Thursday, 8:49 p.m.