Johns Hopkins Medical LGBT Leaders: Carson's Comments “Extremely Discouraging,” “Hurtful”

Current and former leaders of the organization representing the LGBT members of the Johns Hopkins medical institutions say they found recent comments from Dr. Ben Carson comparing marriage equality supporters to advocates of pedophilia and bestiality “extremely discouraging” and “hurtful.”

Carl Streed, a 2013 MD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a longtime LGBT advocate at the local and national level, told Media Matters that he was “extremely disappointed” by Carson's views, calling the comments a “remarkable throwback to the language of the 1990s,” when vicious debates surrounded the passage of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Streed represents the School of Medicine among the leadership of the Gertrude Stein Society (GSS), a group of more than 300 students, faculty, staff and alumni of the Hopkins Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health who work to promote LGBT issues on campus.

Brent Turner, who served as a GSS co-chair representing the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health during the 2011-2012 school year before graduating, told Media Matters that "[w]hile I can respect Dr. Carson's belief that political correctness can and does stifle debate, his most recent remarks are hurtful and out of touch." 

Their comments come as Carson, a Hopkins neurology professor, finds himself at the center of a firestorm surrounding his recent comments about marriage equality.

During a March 26 appearance on Fox News, Carson said, “Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition.”

“So, it's not something against gays,” he added. “It's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.”

Carson, who has recently become a sensation among conservative media, has been subjected to withering criticism for the remarks. Media figures have criticized Carson for using the “rhetoric of the extreme right” during the “trainwreck of an interview.”

Carson has also been hit with criticism from inside the Hopkins faculty. In a blistering statement to Media Matters, Professor Todd Shepard, co-director of the university's Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, said that Carson's comments were “reactionary and rancid” and “make him look nasty, petty, and ill-informed.” He also compared Carson to French intellectuals who supported the prosecution of Alfred Dreyfus at the turn of the 20th century.

Turner and Streed, who both stressed that they were speaking only for themselves, not the Gertrude Stein Society at large, said that Carson's remarks were uncharacteristic of the university as a whole, which they said is supportive of LGBT students. Each specifically pointed to university president Ronald Daniels' public support of the successful 2012 effort to pass marriage equality in Maryland, where the school is located.

Streed said that there has been “wide attention” directed to Carson's comments among Johns Hopkins students, particularly among GSS, and that they have been greeted with “overwhelming abhorrence.” He predicted that campus activism in response to the remarks is likely, saying this is “not an issue that Hopkins takes lightly,” though he could not comment on any specific plans.

He said that GSS is talking to the school administration about a response to Carson's comments, and hopes that they will state publicly that while Carson has had remarkable achievements in medicine, his commentary is “not consistent with the ideals of Hopkins.”

Streed added that the vehemence of Carson's remarks took him by surprise, characterizing prior statements from the professor as “coded.” Asked why he thought Carson was making regular appearances on Fox News to offer up such commentary, Streed said he believed it “goes without saying” that Carson is trying to ingratiate himself with conservatives and predicted he would run for president in 2016.

Asked how he hoped Carson would respond to the firestorm, Streed said he had little hope that the professor would offer any comments of which he would approve, saying that doing so would be “out of character.” Critics of marriage equality who use the language Carson did, in Streed's opinion, are “not open to rational discussions on LGBT rights.”