As Ben Carson falls in the polls after a campaign that featured his staunch opposition to LGBT rights, the Republican presidential candidate was confronted Monday by a lesbian who asked him if being gay is a choice.
The exchange, which was captured on video by ABC News, took place after one of Carson’s town hall meetings in Staten Island, N.Y. as he shook hands and took photos with others in attendance.
“I have a quick question,” said the attendee, who approached Carson wearing a T-shirt bearing the name of a local LGBT center. “Do you think I chose to be gay?”
“Did you choose to be gay?” Carson initially responded.
“Yes, do you think I chose to be gay?” the attendee repeated.
“That’s a long conversation, that’s a long conversation that leads to no answer,” Carson said as he smiled for a photo with other attendees.
The last word in the lesbian attendee’s response is edited in the video, but she appeared to say, “I think you’re full of shit.”
“OK,” Carson responded as he continued grinning for a photo.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 5, 2016
The attendee is never shown in the clip explaining why she asked the question, but Carson has built much of his campaign on opposition to LGBT rights. He’s suggested LGBT families are not “of the same value” as those with opposite-sex parents, indicated transgender people should be forced to use segregated bathrooms and said he preferred the U.S. military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
An opponent of same-sex marriage, Carson has signed a pledge to back a U.S. constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage and another pledge to push within his first 100 days of office passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, a religious freedom bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
After a high-profile shakeup in his campaign resulting in the departure of top staffers, Carson hired as his new campaign manager retired Army Major Gen. Robert Dees, who’s vice president of Liberty University. As David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement has pointed out, Dees has said the U.S. military has been “degraded” by allowing gay people to serve openly.
TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said the “long conversation” Carson referenced should be why Republican presidential candidates keep standing in the way of LGBT rights.
“At a time when you can still be fired for being LGBT in many places across America, it’s outrageous that Republican politicians like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio continue pandering to the anti-gay fringe of their party by supporting discriminatory policies and making inflammatory statements,” Helmstetter said. “It’s a new year, but the same old GOP. The Republicans should join Democrats in the 21st century.”
It’s not the first time Carson has addressed the question of whether being gay is a choice. During an interview on CNN in March, Carson said he “absolutely” thinks being gay is a choice. His explanation: People go into prison who say they’re straight, but when they finish their sentence and are released, they say they’re gay.
“A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay,” Carson said. “So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
After outcry from LGBT advocates over his response, Carson issued in a statement to apologize, saying he “realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues.”
“I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation,” Carson said. “I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”
Once the GOP front-runner, Carson has fallen considerably in the polls. A CNN/ORC poll published last month found Carson following Donald Trump and Ted Cruz with 10 percent support among Republicans.