The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trump administration’s anti-trans rhetoric and actions show his campaign pledge to the LGBT community was hollow

Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, second from right, and Union Rescue Mission CEO Andy Bales, far right, stand next to a temporary fabric structure during a tour of the Union Rescue Mission in the "skid row" area of downtown Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
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The Post’s Tracy Jan and Jeff Stein reported Thursday that Housing and Urban Development staffers were “shocked and upset” by HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s comments in a staff meeting in San Francisco.

The retired neurosurgeon expressed concern that “big, hairy men” could attempt to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters — a comment interpreted as an attack on transgender women, according to three people present.

Carson’s comments add to the list of words and policy actions about transgender people in particular by the administration that have undercut President Trump’s declaration “to go to work for all of you” during his nomination acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

A HUD senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not present during the meeting, released a statement disputing the account, saying: “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgender individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.”

That official claims that Carson was not targeting transgender women but referencing men who pretend to be women for the sake of gaining access to battered women’s shelters.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s largest gay rights organizations, said Carson’s rhetoric is consistent with the overall posture of the Trump administration toward transgender people.

“This is what Donald Trump’s Cabinet officials do,” David told The Fix. “From day one, the Trump-Pence administration has made it clear that the cruelty of their words and actions is the point, and during a year in which at least 19 transgender people — 18 of them black trans women — have been killed in the United States, these remarks serve to only exacerbate this crisis, further dehumanizing the most vulnerable among us.”

Transgender sex workers feel under attack. These women are working to protect their own.

There was a time where Trump suggested his administration would be a safe place for members of the LGBT community. Trump was the first Republican to acknowledge LGBT Americans in a party nomination speech when he promised to protect gay Americans from terrorists. While his commitment to the gay community in that speech was very specific and fit within his broader national security values — it followed the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, carried out by a gunman who had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State — some believed that the Republican Party and LGBT Americans were moving in a new direction.

Joseph R. Murray II, an openly gay lawyer who runs the Facebook group LGBTrump, was pleased with Trump invoking the LGBT community when discussing terrorism.

“Donald Trump is telling us now that he’s gonna protect LGBT Americans from the war on terror, and that is so much more important than any issue facing the LGBT community today, especially because marriage equality is won,” Murray told The Post in 2016.

Trump continued to try to court the LGBT community in the months leading to the 2016 general election, in an effort to draw votes away from his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s stance on LGBT rights has always been confusing

But the latest comments from one of the president’s most well known Cabinet members is just the latest reminder to members of the LGBT community that this administration’s idea of a “great America” does not include expanding the rights of trans Americans.

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization focused on the black LGBT community, said Carson’s stereotypes about trans people prevent them from accessing public accommodations.

“Secretary Carson’s continued comments about transgender people are absurdly ignorant and may increase the number of hate crimes,” Johns told The Fix. “The fact that a ‘medical professional’ remains willfully ignorant about both medical and social realities concerning transgender people should alarm any American citizen who believes in democracy and acknowledges humanity.”

Other examples from Carson specifically include him referring to transgender people as “abnormal” during his presidential run. After joining the administration, Carson weakened Obama-era protections for transgender people, arguing that he believes in equal rights, not “special rights.”

His agency also introduced a proposal in May that would allow federally funded shelters to force transgender women to share sleeping quarters and bathrooms with men.

He has previously said trans people should not be in the military, an idea the Trump administration turned into policy after Christian conservatives, a demographic that helped propel Carson into national politics, lobbied the administration on the issue.

This decision was even met with pushback from supporters of the Trump administration, particularly those in the LGBT community. Two leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans criticized the administration in a Post op-ed last month for its stance on trans people in the military.

Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, chair and vice chair of the group, wrote:

While we do not agree with every policy or platform position presented by the White House or the Republican Party, we share a commitment to individual responsibility, personal freedom and a strong national defense. To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, 80 percent my friend is not 20 percent my enemy. We are committed to letting all qualified Americans serve in the military, and Log Cabin Republicans was a leader in the legal fight to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. We oppose the transgender service restriction and will continue to press the administration to reconsider.

A number of policy changes affecting trans students in the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice President Pence’s history of backing anti-LGBT policies suggests Carson is not an outlier in his interest in limiting the rights of trans people. For those Americans who viewed the Obama administration as a hallmark moment regarding the advancement of LGBT rights, the Trump presidency is a pivot in a wrong and harmful direction.