Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson conceded during a congressional hearing Tuesday to having slow-walked the reissuing of guidance on transgender people seeking admittance to homeless shelters.
In response to questions from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Carson said he’s proceeded slowly because HUD has only recently had a general counsel and the issue of allowing transgender people in the shelters is “complex,” citing concerns by women whom he said don’t want to use bathroom facilities with “somebody who had a very different anatomy.”
As Quigley noted, HUD early on in Carson’s tenure scrubbed from its website a half-dozen resource documents aimed at helping homeless shelters with HUD non-discrimination rules and keeping transgender people safe.
Quigley referenced questions on the guidance he asked Carson during a committee hearing last year, when the secretary said the guidance would return “as soon as possible.” The lawmaker pointed out the guidance still hasn’t been reissued since that time, citing a lawsuit seeking restoration of the material.
That’s when Carson called the matter “a very complex issue,” making a reference to the delayed appointment of a general counsel.
“We finally got a general counsel in December,” Carson said. “This is March. So, yes, it has been since we’ve gotten a general counsel something that we’ve been looking at.”
But Carson made the case that a guidance ensuring transgender people don’t face discrimination in homeless shelters is more complicated than it seems.
“Remember it is complex: We obviously believe in equal rights for everybody, including the LGBT community, but we also believe in equal rights for the women in the shelters and shelters where there are men and their equal rights,” Carson said. “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, so it’s complex issue and it’s been on our agenda. We’ve talked about it quite a bit since we finally got a general counsel.”
When Quigley asked in what way protecting access to transgender people in homeless shelters could interfere with other people’s rights, Carson brought up the bathroom concerns, which are often used as a reason to stigmatize and discriminate against transgender people.
“I’ll give you an example: There are some women who said they were not comfortable with the idea of being in a shelter, being in a shower, and somebody who had a very different anatomy,” Carson said.
The exchange stood out because Carson has an extensive anti-LGBT history prior to his tenure at HUD that includes deriding transgender people. During an event at the 2016 Republican National Convention, Carson said being transgender is “the height of absurdity” and “doesn’t make any sense.” As a 2016 presidential candidate, Carson opposed transgender people in the military and said they should “deal with the transgender thing somewhere else.”
Quigley continued his questioning by asking whether HUD would be able to reinstate the guidance now that a general counsel is in place,” prompting Carson to respond, “I don’t think you would have wanted us to deal with this without a general counsel, would you?”
The Illinois Democrat replied: “I would assume there’s someone involved with equal rights on an ongoing basis at HUD dealing with not just this issue, but a host of other issues that involve legal matters that claim to be concerned about as you just described.”
Asked by Quigley who’s been on the issue for the past year, Carson said he’d like to work with the lawmaker on the issue without making any commitments.
“I would particularly be very interested in your ideas on how we protect the rights of all the people involved,” Carson added. “I would be very interested.”
Quigley took the opportunity to invite Carson to come to Chicago and meet with transgender advocates to help HUD “understand the issues they face, the extraordinary concerns that we have already that unfortunately we haven’t acted upon in the last year.”
Carson professed to have an interest: “We’re happy to hear from anybody who has good solutions to how you protect everybody’s rights.”
It should be noted the underlying rule from the Obama years at HUD prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in government-sponsored housing and a subsequent rule making clear refusing service to transgender people at homeless shelters is unlawful remain in place, although conservative lawmakers have called on the Trump administration to abolish the regulations.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, slammed Carson in a statement for his remarks, saying they propagate a false and harmful image of transgender people.
“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. “Today’s blatant and factually inaccurate anti-transgender rhetoric is the latest in a long line of uninformed and biased statements about LGBTQ people that make Dr. Carson unfit to be the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Homelessness is prevalent among transgender people and an estimated 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 30 percent of transgender Americans have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and 12 percent say they experienced homelessness in the past year because of being transgender.
In a statement after the hearing, Quigley said he hopes Carson takes up the offer to meet with Chicago-based transgender advocates and emphasizing documents haven’t been restored nearly one year after the lawmaker first brought it up with the secretary.
“Over nine months later, these valuable resources are still missing from the website,” Carson said. “Unfortunately, it is apparent that Secretary Carson remains unaware of the housing challenges that many LGBTQ Americans face on a daily basis, and is ill-prepared to address them head-on. The LGBTQ community, and their allies, have the right to know what steps the federal government is taking to support access to safe, affordable, and equitable housing. HUD’s answer — or lack thereof — is unacceptable.”