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Ben Carson Defends Discriminating Against Homeless Trans Women: They Have A ‘Very Different Anatomy’

Ben Carson defended the Trump administration’s erasure of LGBTQ people in a House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley questioned the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary about the Trump administration’s decision to remove guidelines from its website intended to prevent anti-LGBTQ discrimination in homeless shelters.

Carson called the issue “complex.”

The Cabinet member told Quigley that many women are “not comfortable” being housed in a shelter with “somebody who [has] a very different anatomy.”

“We obviously believe in equal rights for everybody, including the LGBTQ community,” he said. “But we also believe in equal rights for the women in the shelters and shelters where there are men and their equal rights. So we want to look at things that really provide for everybody and doesn’t impede the rights of one for the sake of the other.”

Last year, HUD rescinded a toolkit which offered training materials to shelters on how to provide trans-inclusive spaces as the White House removed nearly all LGBTQ-related language from its public webpage.

People for the American Way and Right Wing Watch claimed in a lawsuit filed in March that these weren’t the only anti-LGBTQ actions undertaken by HUD.

The federal department also rescinded a pair of surveys in Cincinnati and Houston on preventing homelessness among queer and trans people and directed “the Policy Development and Research division of HUD not to participate in a study of LGBTQ housing discrimination,” as the suit claims.

The progressive advocacy groups have filed a FOIA request to make documents pertaining to these decisions public, but the White House has yet to comply.

Despite pending legal action against HUD in regards to the rollback of LGBTQ rights, Carson has continued to chip away at protections for queer and trans people. Just weeks before the hearing, a leaked memo from the Department of Housing and Urban Development claimed the agency was redrafting its mission statement “in an effort to align HUD’s mission with the Secretary’s priorities and that of the Administration.”

“HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation,” it now reads.

This language emphasizes a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps model of community building, a far cry from the language instituted by the Obama administration. The prior mission statement highlighted the need for “strong, sustainable, inclusive communities” that are “free from discrimination.”

The revised statement fails to lay out any attempt to prevent systemic bias against marginalized groups. LGBTQ peopleparticularly trans womenare more likely than any other segment of the population to experience bias when seeking housing.

A 2013 study conducted by HUD showed landlords favored renting to opposite-sex couples over same-sex partners in more than 15 percent of cases.

Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ advocacy groups lambasted Carson’s Tuesday comments.

“Anti-discrimination policies that help ensure equal access to homeless shelters are incredibly necessary,” said Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Center for Trans Equality, in a press release. “The transgender community faces an alarmingly high rate of homelessnessnearly a third (30 percent) of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey had been homeless.”

“Those who try to access shelters are more likely than not to face harassment, assault, or to simply be turned away at the door,” she continued. “Seventy percent of respondents who had stayed in a shelter in the year before taking the survey reported some kind of mistreatment.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, emphasized that Carson’s statements perpetuate a debunked myth that trans people pose a threat to others when they share public space (e.g., bathrooms).

“It is because of derogatory myths like this, which have been debunked time and time again, that the transgender community faces disproportionate levels of discrimination and homelessness,” Ellis said in a statement, calling the remarks the “latest in a long line of uninformed and biased statements about LGBTQ people.”

More than 250 domestic violence and sexual assault organizations signed onto a 2016 statement denouncing the idea that women in homeless shelters are made “unsafe” by the presence of trans people. These groups included the Battered Women’s Justice Project, National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, National Domestic Violence Hotline, National Organization for Women, and the YWCA.

“We operate and advocate for rape crisis centers and shelters all over the country, including in cities and states with nondiscrimination protections for transgender people,” they said. “Those protections have not weakened public safety or criminal laws, nor have they compromised their enforcement.”

While the organizations recognized that people housed in homeless shelters may have reasonable concerns about their safety, they argued that rolling back LGBTQ protections won’t fix that.

“Discriminating against transgender people does nothing to decrease the risk of sexual assault,” the groups claimed. “Discriminating against transgender people does not give anyone more control over their body or security. Those who perpetuate falsehoods about transgender people and nondiscrimination laws are putting transgender people in harm’s way and making no one safer.”

Across the U.S., LGBTQ people are disproportionately likely to lack stable housing or live on the street. An estimated 40 percent of homeless youth identify as queer or transgender.

Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.