Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is defending transphobic remarks he made earlier this week, accusing the media of spreading “blatant mischaracterizations” of his statements, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post and Politico.
In the memo sent to his staff amid backlash over the comments, Carson said he felt compelled “to set the record straight,” claiming the press had reported the story irresponsibly.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Carson argued his “point was that we have to permit policies that take into consideration the rights of everybody, including those women.”
His remarks in San Francisco about access to the shelters for homeless women were first reported on Thursday by the Post after sources at the session with HUD employees told the newspaper about what they heard.
According to the story, Carson raised the concern about “big, hairy men” infiltrating the shelters, ostensibly referring to transgender women. He allegedly also complained that society no longer understood the dichotomy between men and women.
One HUD staffer present told the Post that “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.”
There were reportedly 50 people present at the meeting, one of whom walked out in protest of Carson’s comments and drew applause from others.
A spokesman for HUD did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on Thursday, but told the Post that Carson “does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”
Carson has a poor record on transgender rights. His department has proposed changing the 2012 Equal Access Rule to allow federally funded shelters to turn away transgender people on religious grounds. Shortly after Carson took over the department in early 2017, HUD removed links to documents that helped emergency shelters comply with agency regulations for serving homeless transgender people.
He’s also made crass comments to argue against transgender people in the military and letting transgender students use bathrooms that match their gender identities.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.