Retired neurosurgeon and potential Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson may be great at separating conjoined twins, but he's clearly not as adept at keeping up with the last 40 years of sexuality research.
In an interview with host Chris Cuomo, Carson responded to a question regarding whether he believes being gay is a "choice" with a single word: "Absolutely."
It all comes down to prison sexuality, apparently. According to Carson, the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head, the roots of homosexuality are a simple matter of watching Oz. "A lot of people who go into prison straight, and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in [prison]?" Dr. Carson asked rhetorically. "Ask yourself that question."
Ugh. It's not the first time Carson's statements on homosexuality have drawn criticism or questions about his grasp of human sexuality. In a 2013 Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Carson compared gays and lesbians who wanted to get married to proponents of child rape and bestiality. "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," he said. "It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."
Carson's odious comparison drew sharp criticism. Discovering that he was scheduled to address the graduates of Johns Hopkins University, students circulated a petition asking that Carson be replaced as the commencement speaker. Carson later apologized for the remarks (insofar as insisting that the entire country misheard you can qualify as an apology): "I think in terms of what was said on Sean Hannity's show, that was taken completely out of context and completely misunderstood in terms of what I was trying to say," he told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "As a Christian, I have a duty to love all people and that includes people who have other sexual orientations, and I certainly do, and never had any intention of offending anyone ... If anyone was offended, I apologize to you."
In October 2014, Huffington Post reported Carson was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Extremist File" list of anti-LGBT extremists — a list that includes Scott "Gays Caused the Holocaust" Lively and the Westboro Baptist Church's late leader, Fred Phelps. The SPLC cited Carson's appearances "as the keynoter at a rash of right-wing and hate group gatherings, linking gays with pedophiles, comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany and endorsing biblical economic practices for 21st century America." But in February, the SPLC removed his name and apologized to Carson (insofar as an apology that liberally quotes other heinous things he has stated publicly qualifies as an apology).
Carson's views on sexuality would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous. The scientific consensus alone is enough to dismiss Carson's assertions as a prima facie case of scientific illiteracy. There studies upon studies that conclude homosexuality is an immutable trait. Although researchers have yet to determine the exact cause of homosexuality (birth order is a likely candidate, at least in men), any assertions that sexual orientation is any easier to change than skin or hair color is preposterous.
Carson did not respond to a request for comment from Mic.
More pernicious is Carson's assertion about prison sexuality. According to "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons," a report written by Human Rights Watch in 2001, many "consensual" sexual relationships between prisoners of the same sex are just masks for sexual slavery. Through threats of violence and intimidation, victims of prison rape are forced into feigning consent and rendered the "property" of their rapists. Sexual and racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to sexual slavery in prisons, as are prisoners perceived as being "young, small in size, physically weak, white, gay, first offender, [or] possessing 'feminine' characteristics such as long hair or a high voice."
The idea that these men and women are "consenting" or changing their sexual orientation while in prison is an illusion, and a public assertion otherwise made by a potential presidential candidate should terrify anyone who supports prison reform.