Politics

People Are Concerned Over Ben Carson's Comments During His Confirmation Hearing

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development-designate Ben Carson is under fire for suggesting LGBT Americans want "extra rights" during his confirmation hearing Thursday.

His comments illustrate the misconception that guaranteeing marginalized communities equal rights is tantamount to granting them special privileges.

The remark came when Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pressed Carson on protecting LGBT Americans from discrimination in public housing programs.

"Of course, I would enforce all the laws of the land," he said. "Of course, I think all Americans should be protected by the law."

"What I have said before is I don’t think anyone should get ‘extra rights,'' Carson continued.

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Federal law currently protects LGBT people from housing discrimination. 

In 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a rule banning LGBT discrimination in federally financed housing. The agency passed a 2016 regulation extending these protections to HUD-funded homeless shelters, allowing transwomen to be housed in women's shelters.

Data illustrates that housing discrimination and homelessness disproportionately impact the LGBT community.

From Think Progress:

"Although LGBTQ people make up 5 to 10 percent of the youth population, they make up 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population. Homeless LGBTQ youth also face higher rates of sexual assault, according to the Center for American Progress. According to a 2013 HUD survey, gay and lesbian couples were much less likely to receive a positive response when applying for housing. Nineteen percent of transgender people were refused housing, according to a 2012 national survey on discrimination against transgender people. LGBTQ people of color also experience higher rates of housing discrimination."

As the data illustrates, HUD banning LGBT discrimination is a matter of ensuring equal rights — not granting "extra" ones.

Carson's comments ignited shock and dismay among civil rights groups, LGBT advocates, and various Democratic politicians on social media.

This isn't the first time Carson has conflated equal rights with "extra" ones.

In a January interview on Catholic news network EWTN, Carson sharply criticized the Department of Education's attempts to ensure the rights of transgender students, using the same term. Transcript from the Advocate, emphasis mine:

“You see how silly this is. I mean, it’s beyond ridiculous that you take the most abnormal situation and then you make everyone else conform to it. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. That’s one of the very reasons that I have been an outspoken opponent of things like gay marriage. I don’t have any problem with gay people doing anything they want to do. You know, it’s a free country, there’s freedom of association. However, when you now impose your value system on everybody else and change fundamental definitions and principles of society, I have a big problem with that. Everybody is equal, everybody has equal rights, but nobody gets extra rights. And when we start trying to impose the extra rights based on a few people who perhaps are abnormal, where does that lead?

Carson posed a similar argument in a November 2015 interview with Fusion about transgender bathroom laws.

“It is not fair for [transgender people] to make everybody else uncomfortable,” Carson said. “It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the [LGBT] movement. I think everybody has equal rights, but I’m not sure that anybody should have extra rights—extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else.”

The Obama administration has made great strides for the LGBT community over the past eight years.

President Obama signed bills into law that ended the armed services "don't ask, don't tell" policy and expanded hate crime laws and the Violence Against Women's Act to protect LGBT Americans during his time in office.

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After Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in 2010 and 2014 respectively, the Obama administration continued the fight for LGBT rights, passing sweeping executive orders and expanding numerous existing civil rights laws to include LGBT Americans, as the Advocate details in a November report.

President-elect Donald Trump's administration could reverse or abandon HUD anti-LGBT discrimination measures.

“The HUD Secretary can really set the tone in terms of making decisions about where resources are allocated, and where staff are provided to take on enforcement roles,” University of Buffalo professor of urban and regional planning Robert Silverman told the Atlantic. Silverman claimed Trump's administration could defund the enforcement of Obama-issued rules and provisions.

“You’re only as good as enforcement, and if they’re not enforcing it, that basically means LGBTQ people’s rights are not going to be protected,” Center for American Progress senior policy analyst Sharita Gruberg told Think Progress.

Trump has said he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would open the door to LGBT discrimination in housing and other areas of life.