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Ben Carson questioned on HUD's lack of LGBTQ nondiscrimination guidance

“We are all now more stupid than we were when we came in the room today,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said after a heated exchange with the HUD secretary.

WASHINGTON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said in a hearing Wednesday that a Democratic congressman “might not like” and “probably wouldn’t agree with” the department’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination guidance, if the agency were to provide it.

During the House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said he was “very disappointed” with HUD's decision not to replace the LGBTQ nondiscrimination guidance that the department removed from its website soon after Carson was appointed by President Donald Trump over two years ago. The guidance, provided in 2009 by the Obama administration, was intended to help HUD housing providers and shelters interpret the agency’s rules so as not to discriminate against LGBTQ service recipients.

“So, how will these grantees comply with the regs without this guidance, sir?” Quigley asked Carson.

Carson responded that the guidance “was pretty much obliterated” by rules HUD issued in 2012 and 2016. The secretary added that HUD “concluded that putting that sub-regulatory guidance" regarding anti-LGBTQ discrimination "actually confused the issue." He said his agency — which is responsible for national policy and programs that address America’s housing needs and enforces fair housing laws — was trying to “simplify things” and said the rules still stand and have not been changed.

Quigley, who serves as vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, pressed on, saying “HUD grantees need guidance to avoid the discrimination and to make clear to them what the rules are.” Quigley also stated that HUD missed a deadline “by almost six months” to review the guidance in question that the agency took down in 2017. Carson responded by saying the agreement had been that the guidelines would be reviewed, not that they would be put back up on HUD's website.

Following additional questioning by Quigley regarding the sub-regulatory LGBTQ discrimination guidance, the exchange became heated.

“From my conversations with many legal experts throughout government, my suspicion is that you would probably dislike the sub-regulatory guidance that would be put up," Carson said. "This provides you with considerably more freedom," he added, referring to HUD's lack of specific LGBTQ discrimination guidance.

Quigley said: “Are you suggesting that doing nothing provides greater protection? By putting no guidance up on the website is providing this?

“I'm suggesting that you might not like the sub-regulatory guidance that was put up,” Carson answered.

Quigley continued: “And why is that? I'm a glutton for punishment, sir.”

“Because you probably wouldn't agree with it,” Carson replied.

“Because it goes along with allowing people to discriminate against LGBTQ youth?” Quigley inquired.

Carson then reiterated that the rules in place “allow people to have a nondiscriminatory atmosphere, and that's what we are trying to achieve.”

“All right, we are all now more stupid than we were when we came in the room today, sir," Quigley eventually concluded.

When asked by NBC News what Carson meant when he told Quigley he would “probably dislike the sub-regulatory guidance” regarding LGBTQ housing discrimination, a HUD spokesperson said in an email that “the Secretary testified that HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule is still in force,” and then provided a link to the rule’s 73-page document.

David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization, sharply criticized Carson's comments at Wednesday's hearing.

“Once again, Secretary Carson demonstrates a complete disregard for the safety and well-being of LGBTQ people facing homelessness — even LGBTQ youth," Stacy told NBC News.

Over the past decade, studies have consistently found LGBTQ youth make up a disproportionate number of homeless youth across the U.S. A 2014 report by the Urban Institute, a social policy think tank, notes that "researchers estimate that LGBTQ youths make up 20 to 40 percent of the homeless youth population but only 4 to 10 percent of the general youth population."

Last February, a federal lawsuit was filed against HUD and the Department of Justice by People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group, calling on the departments to publicly disclose documents related to any change in policy regarding LGBTQ people.

"The public has a right to know what directives are being handed down that resulted in LGBTQ people being written out of federal programs and activities," Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, said in a statement shortly after the suit was filed. The suit is still pending.

After Wednesday's hearing, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said in an email that the subcommittee expects Carson to provide "clear answers on how HUD is enforcing our fair housing laws, including the inexplicable decision to remove LGBTQ nondiscrimination guidance from its website that helps shelters and other grantees comply with the law."

"I expect a response within 30 days once we transmit our questions," Price said.