Ben Carson's remarks during San Francisco visit spark backlash

Ben Carson's remarks during San Francisco visit spark backlash
© Stefani Reynolds

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonWhite House slams pastor leading Cabinet Bible studies for linking homosexuality, coronavirus Conservative group hits Trump for coronavirus response in new ad On The Money: Senate sends coronavirus aid package to Trump | Lawmakers race to draft next stimulus | Stocks close with steep loses | Treasury offers guidance on deferring tax payments MORE sparked backlash after he reportedly said "big, hairy men" were trying to enter homeless shelters for women during a meeting at the agency's San Fransisco office. 

Three people at the meeting told The Washington Post that they interpreted his remark to refer to transgender women. Two agency staff members told the newspaper that he also complained that society did not know the difference between men and women anymore. 

The staff members told the Post that the comment upset many people present at the Tuesday HUD meeting and at least one woman left in protest. 

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A government official also told the newspaper that Carson has made fun of transgender people during meetings in Washington.  

"His overall tone is dismissive and joking about these people," the official said. "It's disrespectful of the people we are trying to serve."

 “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false," a senior HUD official told the Post in a statement after being asked about Carson's reported remarks. 

The official, who was not in the meetings, told the newspaper that Carson was talking about men pretending to be women to get into battered women’s shelters rather than referring to transgender women as  “big, hairy men.”

The Hill has reached out to HUD for comment. 

One staffer who took notes during the meeting told The Post that Carson said "Transgender people should get the same rights as everyone else, but they don’t get to change things for everybody else.” 

He reportedly followed the comment by saying that shelter operators and women's groups informed him that homeless women would be traumatized if “big, hairy men” enter shelters identifying themselves as women. He also reportedly said that single-sex shelters should be able to turn away transgender people. 

“That was the first time any of us heard him use such derogatory language,” one staff member told the newspaper.“He’s more tactful when he’s talking before Congress, whereas this sounded like a slur to me.”

National Center for Transgender Equality spokeswoman Gillian Branstetter was quoted condemning Carson's comment in the Post. 

“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,” she said. “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,” Branstetter added. 

Following the Post's report, Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonBlack voters propel Biden to big wins in Virginia, NC, Alabama Biden notches major win in Virginia primary Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Va.) released a statement calling for Carson's resignation. 

“Secretary Carson's remarks are revolting. These comments only affirm that his recent efforts to erase the Equal Access Rule are rooted in ignorance, not sound policy. By allowing shelters to discriminate against transgender Americans, the Secretary is putting lives in danger," she said. 

The remarks were also met with criticism online.  

Carson has previously sparked controversy over remarks used to refer to transgender people. He told The Hill in 2016 that being being transgender “doesn’t make any sense.” According to the Post, he has also said transgender people are "abnormal" and shouldn't be in the military.