BRIANNA KEILAR (HOST): Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is coming under fire for dismissive comments that he allegedly made about transgender people. This is according to a report in The Washington Post. The paper says the remarks were made at a recent HUD staff meeting in San Francisco where, quote, “Carson expressed concern about big hairy men attempting to enter women's shelters," according to three people present who interpreted the remarks as an attack on transgender women. Now, HUD has not responded to CNN's request for comment, but a senior HUD official told The Post that “the secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals" and called the report “false." Gillian Branstetter is the spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Thank you so much for joining us.
GILLIAN BRANSTETTER (NCTE): Thank you so much for having me, Brianna.
KEILAR: So, there are people who walked out of this meeting because they heard something that they thought was very discriminatory towards trans Americans. When you heard about this, what did you think?
BRANSTETTER: Well, unfortunately, it's a heinous insult, a grievous one, but one that is all too commonly used to try and malign transgender people, to try and stereotype transgender people, and to try to justify stripping away our rights. What we know is that transgender people are not only more likely to be the victims of sexual violence, but the very laws that protect our rights -- including the Equal Access Rule, which is a rule within the housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development that ensures equal access for trans people to HUD programs -- these have zero impact on rates of violence. There are now close to 20 states that have laws protecting equal access for trans people to restrooms, for example, and not a single one has there been any increase in violence. The notion that there is is nothing more than a myth used to push transgender people down.
KEILAR: The trope is that trans people -- that he's trafficking in -- are perpetrators of violence when, in fact, they are the recipients of violent acts. You have statistics on how often this occurs.
BRANSTETTER: Oh, absolutely. So, transgender people, unfortunately, nearly half of us are sexual assault survivors. And that is a crisis that a lot of transgender people struggle to respond to because of distrust that exists between trans people and the very authority figures who have control over our lives. So, more than half of transgender people have said they are afraid to go to the police if they need to. One in three transgender people have said they're afraid to see a doctor if they need to, and more than three quarters said that they're afraid to seek shelter access when they need to. So, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development floating this debunked, harmful myth is extremely harmful to a community -- one in three transgender people has experienced homelessness in their lifetime. One in eight has experienced it just in the last year.
KEILAR: And because of that, when you see that it's the HUD secretary, it, there's something particularly, I guess not just painful, but if you're talking pragmatically about the needs of the trans community, this is a department that the trans community is very reliant on.
BRANSTETTER: Yes. Absolutely. The programs that have been enacted in HUD since 2011 under the Equal Access Rule, ensuring that no program that is receiving HUD dollars can discriminate using taxpayer dollars, are life-saving for transgender people. And it's important to understand that if you don't have stable access to shelter, stable access to housing, you're more at-risk for violence, which is an an epidemic impacting our community. Black transgender women, in particular, are murdered at extremely high rates and frightening high rates. A homeless transgender woman in Portland was found hanging from a tree. A homeless transgender woman in Idaho was beaten so badly that her jaw was broken in 10 places, and she needed reconstructive surgery. Right in Baltimore, two weeks after this president maligned the people of Baltimore, a transgender woman of 17 years old, a high school senior, was murdered on her own block. So, denying us equal access to these shelters not only fuels that crisis of violence, but by spreading this myth that somehow we are not a community that needs this assistance is gravely damaging to hear from an administration official.