Secretary Carson, Will You Do No Harm?

Several weeks ago, when the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Ben Carson, refused to restore the LGBTQ protections put in place by President Barack Obama’s administration, I began drafting a response. However, before I even finished drafting that statement, I read an article that shook me to my core: “Proposed HUD rule would strip transgender protections at homeless shelters.”

I was met with a familiar sadness – the same one that led to my procrastination when putting together the original blog post. And, in full transparency, that sadness is still sitting with me.

I write this while losing a battle with the tears that I have been trying to keep from streaming down my face.

I don’t quite know what it means for me to spring into action whenever I see a headline with the word “transgender” prominently featured. Maybe it’s because trans people are amongst the most vulnerable members of our communities and are the most likely to experience shelter and housing discrimination. Maybe it’s the fact that having once been a housing case manager, I have sat in front of countless trans women experiencing homelessness, whose faces are now running through my head. Or maybe it’s the fact that I myself am a trans woman, and under less fortunate circumstances, this could easily be me.

Secretary Carson, I wonder if you have ever sat in front of somebody experiencing homelessness. I don’t mean stood in front of, as in being approached or asked spare change – no, have you actually sat down in front of an individual experiencing homelessness, and actually shared space with them, while attempting to help? If you have, then you would remember the stories of desperation. You would remember someone pleading with you to help them get off of the streets. You would remember the ravages of marginalization and economic injustice and the toll that it takes, not only on the body, but on the spirit as well.

I also wonder if you, Secretary Carson, ever sit with the discomfort of knowing that your policies are endangering and further marginalizing people who simply want to find shelter. If you know the undeniable harm that you are causing by advancing discriminatory policies that specifically target trans and gender nonconforming people. If you know just how contrary your actions are to the oath you took before becoming one of the most celebrated surgeons in this nation.

Every day, my colleagues and I fight to preserve the dignity of those who have been denied basic humanity. And although we took no formal oath, we know full well the gravity and importance of the Hippocratic Oath: “first do no harm.” On the contrary, Secretary Carson, you made a promise to abstain from intentional wrong-doing. You are supposed to remember the humanity of patients, and to respect your role as healer and caregiver. And, as the HUD Secretary, you have been given an even greater charge – guaranteeing that public housing and shelters, which often serve as a safety blanket for thousands of us, remain intact and provide safety to those in need. It is your obligation to uphold this ethical standard – without bias – for all people. This, undeniably, includes protecting those within the LGBTQ community.

As a trans woman, I know all too well that the LGBTQ community faces egregious bias and rampant bigotry daily. We are not asking for special rights. What we are demanding is that we have access to safe, fair housing and that we have access to appropriate shelter. What we are demanding is a life without fear, like everyone else.

And, Secretary Carson, there is nothing special about that.


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