Last week, media reports twisted remarks from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson. Carson had told HUD staff that some women’s shelters expressed concerns about “big, hairy men” who identified as women and tried to enter the shelters. The Washington Post reported Carson’s remarks as “dismissive,” quoting a staffer who called Carson “disrespectful” and going on to list the secretary’s history of politically incorrect comments on transgender issues. Democrats responded with outrage and demands that Carson resign.
“Sickening. Ben Carson shouldn’t even be given the chance to resign. He should be fired tonight,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) tweeted.
Sickening. Ben Carson shouldn’t even be given the chance to resign. He should be fired tonight. https://t.co/8UoXdSs623
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) September 19, 2019
Tom Steyer, a climate change activist who made his money investing in coal and who is now running for president, also called for Carson’s resignation. “HUD’s mission is to legally guarantee housing—especially to vulnerable populations. Ben Carson should resign immediately. He is unfit for his office. These comments perpetuate stereotypes and harm trans Americans,” Steyer tweeted.
HUD's mission is to legally guarantee housing—especially to vulnerable populations. Ben Carson should resign immediately. He is unfit for his office. These comments perpetuate stereotypes and harm trans Americans. https://t.co/X0PwxhaTP2
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) September 21, 2019
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), another 2020 presidential candidate, called Carson’s comments “shameful” and “unacceptable.” Yet she did not demand his resignation.
“Shameful. These derogatory comments by Secretary Carson are part of a long pattern that shows his disregard for the transgender community. It’s simply unacceptable,” she tweeted.
Shameful. These derogatory comments by Secretary Carson are part of a long pattern that shows his disregard for the transgender community. It’s simply unacceptable. https://t.co/C1EN9z0tDq
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 20, 2019
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another 2020 Democrat, suggested Carson “shouldn’t have his job.”
“Secretary Carson’s transphobic remarks are completely unacceptable,” Warren tweeted. “Trans women who experience homelessness are already disproportionately more likely to face violence. If Secretary Carson is not willing to do his job and protect all Americans experiencing housing insecurity then he shouldn’t have his job.”
Secretary Carson's transphobic remarks are completely unacceptable. https://t.co/TT5N6abbtc
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) September 21, 2019
Julián Castro, former HUD secretary and another 2020 candidate, suggested Carson’s comments “normalize violence” against transgender people.
“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,” Castro tweeted.
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.https://t.co/yibDnZAypj
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 20, 2019
This came from the same Julián Castro who demanded taxpayers foot the bill for a biological male (a “trans female”) seeking an abortion.
Demands for Carson to step down actually predated this most recent outrage. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) demanded his resignation over Carson’s proposal to amend the equal-access rule to allow women’s shelters to restrict their services to biological women. Transgender activists have condemned this proposed change.
But the more recent news had Democrats tripping over themselves to condemn Ben Carson. What exactly did the HUD secretary say?
According to The Washington Post, Carson made the remarks in a closed-door meeting with roughly 50 HUD staffers at the agency’s San Francisco office. Three sources told The Post they “interpreted the remarks as an attack on transgender women.” They said the remarks “visibly shocked and upset” many HUD staff and “prompted at least one woman to walk about in protest.”
“That was the first time any of us heard him use such derogatory language,” one San Francisco staffer said. “He’s more tactful when he’s talking before Congress, whereas this sounded like a slur to me.”
“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,” another staffer said.
When one woman voiced her disagreement, Carson “politely thanked her for her comment and moved on.” Yet a staffer called the experience “pretty demoralizing,” saying it left staffers “shell-shocked.”
San Francisco is notorious as a haven for the LGBT community, so perhaps it should not be surprising that HUD staffers there would easily take offense on transgender issues. Yet the fact remains that transgender issues are rightly controversial.
People who suffer with gender dysphoria (the persistent and painful condition of identifying with the gender opposite one’s biological sex) deserve sympathy, but it is impossible for a biological male to become a female or vice versa. Women’s shelters that harbor women who have been abused by men should be able to exclude biological males, even if they identify as women. After all, men who claim to identify as women have sexually assaulted women in women’s prisons.
On Friday, Secretary Carson explained his remarks and attacked the media’s “blatant mischaracterizations.”
“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,” Carson wrote in an all-staff email.
“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,” he added. “My point was that we have to permit policies that take into consideration the rights of everybody, including those women.”
Indeed, these concerns led lesbian feminist Julia Beck to condemn the pro-transgender bill H.R. 5, the Equality Act, as a “human rights violation.” A coalition of feminists, pro-life activists, religious freedom activists, and more allied against the Equality Act for this reason.
Ben Carson did not use a “slur” against transgender women. Rather, he expressed a legitimate concern from some women’s shelters, quoting their concerns about “big, hairy men.” This is not a heinous sin that requires Carson’s immediate resignation. It is quite revealing that so many Democrats saw it that way.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.