Julian Castro, other Democrats criticize Ben Carson after reported comments on transgender people

Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON-- After Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson reportedly made offensive remarks about transgender people earlier this week, Julián Castro, former Obama HUD secretary and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, as well as other candidat, had some choice words. 

“19 Black trans women have been killed this year because comments like Ben Carson’s normalize violence against them,” Castro tweeted Thursday.” As HUD Secretary, I protected trans people, I didn’t denigrate them.” 

According to the Washington Post, during a stop at HUD’s San Francisco office on Tuesday, Carson said “big, hairy men" identifying as women were trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters. The Post also reported Thursday that the HUD secretary alluded to society being unable to tell the difference between men and women. 

Reportedly, he also added that single-sex shelters should be able to reject transgender people.

Carson's comments upset many of the roughly 50 HUD staffers who were present, and at least one woman walked out in protest, also according to the Post’s reporting. 

One San Francisco staffer told the Post “That was the first time any of us heard him use such derogatory language,” adding Carson is “more tactful when he’s talking before Congress, whereas this sounded like a slur to me.”

A HUD senior official provided a statement to the Post Thursday: “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false."

The Post reported Friday evening that Carson sent an agency-wide email clarifying and explaining his remarks.

The email read in part: “'Our society is in danger when we pick one issue (such as gender identity) and say it does not matter how it impacts others because this one issue should override every other common-sense consideration. I think we have to look out for everyone, and we need to use our intellectual capabilities to find common good rather than attempting to always stir up controversy through identity politics.'”

In the message Carson denied making “'hateful statements toward the transgender population,'" and instead sought to clarify that his statements were intended to be about seeking to protect "'women many of which have suffered at the hands of male domestic abusers — who believe there are men who might hurt them.'”

"'My point was that we have to permit policies that take into consideration the rights of everybody, including those women,'" the HUD secretary also reportedly said in the agency-wide message.

Carson has a record of anti-LGBT comments -- calling transgender people “abnormal”, claiming that being gay is "absolutely" a choice, and as proof to the prior statement, saying "a lot of people" go into prison and change their sexual orientation while incarcerated. 

He also called transgender citizen’s existence “the height of absurdity.”

"For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is," Carson said in 2016. "And now all of a sudden we don't know anymore. Now, is that the height of absurdity?”

The HUD spokesperson quoted by the Post Thursday had tried to clarify that Carson was referring to men who pretend to be women to gain access to women’s shelters, not meaning to single out transgender women as the “big, hairy men.”

In a statement provided to USA TODAY on Friday prior to the second Post report, HUD spokeswoman Caroline Vanvick did not deny Carson’s comments.

Rather Vanvick reiterated a view Carson espoused during his remarks Tuesday in San Francisco when he reportedly also said that "transgender people should get the same rights as everyone else, but they don’t get to change things for everybody else.”

Vanvick echoed that sentiment saying in her statement that Carson "will continue to make sure everyone is guaranteed equal rights—not given extra rights. He does not believe any one group deserves to be treated better or worse than any other group.” 

“It’s a sad state of affairs when staff tasked with serving the public would attempt to twist his words in order to politically grandstand,” Vanvick continued. 

Carson was in San Francisco earlier this week as a part of the Trump administration's focus on homelessness in California

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The president of the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBT organization, tweeted in response Thursday that: “From his comments on trans service members to his support for a proposal that would literally permit emergency shelters to turn away trans people who are homeless, hardly surprising that @SecretaryCarson would blatantly dehumanize trans people in his official capacity."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., another 2020 Democratic contender, said that Carson’s “derogatory remarks are harmful to the LGBTQ+ community and just downright cruel.”

Sabrina Singh, the national press secretary for the presidential campaign of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said in a statement provided to USA TODAY that Carson's comments were "vile and disgusting."

"This administration has done everything possible to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans," she continued.

Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California, called Carson’s comments “sick” and elaborated that we “cannot allow this kind of behavior to be normalized.”

The backlash over the comments comes as dozens of Democrats signed a letter to Carson on Thursday, asking him to reinstate provisions aimed at helping LGBT people as part of the criteria for a competition to receive grants from HUD. 

"These changes invite discrimination and could result in trans people being denied access to critical homeless services, forcing them to remain on the street and putting them at further risk of physical violence and abuse," the letter reads.

In May, HUD proposed a new rule that would allow federally-funded shelters to deny people admission, forcing transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men. 

Nearly one-third of transgender Americans who responded to a 2015 survey have experienced homelessness in their lifetime. Requiring transgender people to stay in shelters that don't match their gender identity can put them at further risk of violence and harassment, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Carson's effort to clarify and explain his comments by reportedly emailing HUD's staff came as Democrats have begun to suggest he should resign.

"Trans women who experience homelessness are already disproportionately more likely to face violence." Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a front-runner in the Democratic primary field tweeted Friday evening. "If Secretary Carson is not willing to do his job and protect all Americans experiencing housing insecurity then he shouldn't have his job.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro slam Ben Carson over trans comments