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Carson defends HUD policy, but critics claim discrimination

Updated May 23, 2019 - 5:02 pm

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said Thursday a proposed rule that would weaken Obama-era protections for homeless transgender people is meant to empower local shelters that receive federal funding.

“Instead of having, you know, books and books of federal regulations, (the) only regulation that we really need is one that says no discrimination for anybody, and if they do discriminate against people, you know, come down on them,” he said. “But in terms of legislating how everything should be done in every place all over the country, that’s probably not particularly useful.”

Carson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a phone interview that shedding federal regulations is a general principle he wants to follow.

The new rule proposed Wednesday would allow shelters to develop admissions policies based on multiple factors. Under the proposal, shelters could create policies allowing them to make determinations about accommodations based on factors that include religious beliefs.

When asked if his department would come down on shelters if they discriminate against transgender people, he said, “If they’re discriminating just on the basis of that, absolutely.”

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., criticized the secretary in a tweet Wednesday.

“One day after (Carson) told me he isn’t anticipating any changes to protections for LGBTQ people in shelters, HUD announced a proposal to gut that very rule,” Wexton tweeted. “He either lied to Congress or has no idea what policies his agency is pursuing. Either way, it’s unacceptable.”

Wexton introduced legislation Thursday that would block the proposed rule.

Asked whether forcing a transgender woman to use the men’s bathrooms and sleeping quarters on religious grounds is discrimination, Carson responded: “What we want to do is make sure that everybody has equal rights, but nobody has extra rights.”

He said a group of women told him they were uncomfortable when they saw a transgender woman in their shelter, where many women were leaving abusive situations.

“And, you know, we have to look out for their rights, too,” he said. “We can’t just trample on their rights. You have to consider everyone’s rights. In the ideal situations that I’ve seen, you know, they have the ability to shelter people in single rooms, in which case it makes no difference.”

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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