Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is questioning the need to allow transgender individuals to serve in the military, just as Pentagon officials prepare to lift the ban next year on transgender personnel serving in the armed forces.
"I do not appreciate using our military as a laboratory for social experimentation," Carson said Saturday at a town hall event hosted by Concerned Veterans for America in Waterloo, Iowa. "You know, we have too many important things to do."
The retired neurosurgeon continued: "When our men and women are out there, you know, fighting the enemy, the last thing that we need to be doing is saying, 'What would it be like if we introduced several transgender people into this platoon?'"
"Give me a break," he said. "Deal with the transgender thing somewhere else."
Though transgender individuals are currently banned from military service, studies estimate that as many as 15,000 transgender people serve as active duty or reserve officers. Some research indicates that transgender citizens are twice as likely as members of the general population to join the military.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement that "we must ensure that everyone who's able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so. And we must treat all of our people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Going forward, the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both."
During the Q&A portion of Saturday's event, Carson also gave his support for the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which prevented gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces.
"I like the old, you know, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' philosophy," Carson said of the military ban, which was lifted in 2010 with bipartisan support in Congress. "Why do you have to go around flouting your sexuality? It's not necessary. You don't need to talk about that. We need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy."
The GOP hopeful also addressed female combat recruits, saying that, "as far as women are concerned on the battlefield -- I have a tendency to want to protect women, but I also have great respect for women."
"All the success I've had in life is because of women, so I am never going to say no to women," Carson said, just days after Carter announced the Pentagon would open all combat roles to women. "But I am very frightened when it comes to certain job descriptions if we lower the standards."
"We have to have standards, and if women can meet those standards, and they want to meet those standards, and they want to do that, then I would never deny them," he said. "But, you know, what woman wants to go out on the front line in the dirt and the slime fighting? I mean, if they want to do it and they're capable, no problem, OK? I would never deny them. But I would be steadfast about the requirements."