Dr. Ben Carson, a potential candidate in the 2016 Republican Party presidential primary elections and a former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, made controversial remarks regarding homosexuality on Wednesday, sparking debate both nationally and on the Homewood Campus.
Carson’s remarks came just one day after announcing that he was forming an exploratory committee for the Office of President of the United States.
On CNN’s “New Day” with Chris Cuomo, Carson asserted his opinion that homosexuality is “absolutely” a choice.
“Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question,” Carson told CNN.
Amanda Spohrer, events coordinator for Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA) was dismayed by the content of Carson’s statement.
“My initial reaction when I was reading was anger and hurt,” Spohrer said. “I’m very active in the LGBT community here at Hopkins, and we work very hard to have awareness on campus. To have somebody who’s got the Hopkins name behind them in the media [say this] feels like it’s a step backward and trying to sabotage what we’ve been trying to establish here at Hopkins and what the LGBT community has been trying to establish nationwide.”
Later that day, Carson made a public apology on his Facebook page, stating that his choice of language was not fully reflective of his views on LGBTQ rights.
“I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended,” Carson posted.
In his apology, Carson referred to his experience with Johns Hopkins Hospital and his knowledge of medicine. Carson began working at the hospital after his graduation from the University of Michigan Medical School. At the age of 33, he became the director of the Department of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and in 1987, he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins that were conjoined in the back of the head.
Drawing upon his experience in medicine, Carson concluded that there is no definitive scientific consensus regarding whether people choose their sexuality.
“Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality,” Carson wrote. “We do know, however, that we are always born male and female. And I know that we are all made in God’s image, which means we are all deserving of respect and dignity.”
Kim Hoppe, the director of public relations and corporate communications for Johns Hopkins Hospital, responded to Carson’s statement in an email to The News-Letter.
“Johns Hopkins Medicine embraces diversity and believes that the same civil rights should be available to all regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation,” Hoppe wrote.
She explained Carson’s personal views do not reflect the views of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“Before his retirement, Dr. Carson worked for Johns Hopkins Medicine because of his extraordinary skill as a neurosurgeon. Just like any other employee or former employee, when he shares his political, religious or social views, he is sharing personal beliefs and is not speaking on behalf of the institution,” Hoppe wrote.
This was not the first time that Carson has made controversial comments regarding the LGBTQ community. In March of 2013 on Fox News, Carson had compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.
“My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established fundamental pillar of society, and 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,” Carson said on “Hannity.”
Carson was also invited to speak at the 2013 Commencement for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine but stepped down after students petitioned.
College Republicans board member Nitin Nainani was not surprised about Carson’s intent to run for president and thought Carson’s recent statements would harm his election prospects.
“Dr. Ben Carson had long indicated his interest in running for President, so today’s announcement doesn’t come as a surprise,” Naniani wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “He’s joining a very large, diverse field of candidates. He’s certainly a more unorthodox hopeful, considering he doesn’t have any experience as an elected official. As for his comments, I don’t agree with them. I think they’re unhelpful for the party’s efforts to broaden its base, and I think they distract from other issues which will be debated in the upcoming election — such as the economy and Hillary Clinton’s unimpressive performance as Secretary of State.”
Ben Schwartz, co-president of the College Democrats, also thought that Carson’s statements were incorrect and politically expedient.
“In a lot of polls, it shows how far right the Republican Party is, when a person like Ben Carson [who] has been saying a lot of pretty crazy things is one of the frontrunners,” Schwartz said. “In terms of Hopkins, unfortunately, I have no doubt that Dr. Carson is a world-class neurosurgeon, but it reflects badly on Johns Hopkins for him to say things that are not only crazy, but offensive to a vast majority of Americans. What I’m glad for is that we have leadership at Johns Hopkins that directly refute that. For example, I’m very glad that we have a president like President Daniels, who in 2012 came out [in support of] gay marriage.”
Although Carson has never run for public office, he was fourth in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll last weekend, nearly tying with Sen. Ted Cruz. He received more than 11 percent of the vote.
“I think that he thinks it makes political sense to say outrageous things and offensive things, and it may be that he doesn’t [even] actually believe in these things. He’s a pretty smart guy; I don’t know why he’d be indulging on conspiracy theories,” Schwartz said. “I think that it may help him do well on the primary, but a person like that... in 21st-century America will never be president, and a majority of Republicans also will never vote for a person like that.”
Spohrer was less certain as to whether Carson could become elected president, but she expressed her hope that such an outcome would not occur.
“Unfortunately, I do think that there are people who probably agree with him and would like to see him making laws for our country,” Spohrer said.
Correction: The original photo for this article was of Cuba Gooding, Jr. acting as Ben Carson in Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story rather than Carson himself.