President Donald Trump defended his decision to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military during an an interview with Piers Morgan Tuesday evening, using false claims that contradict what his administration has argued in court.
The interview came during Trump’s state visit to the United Kingdom, one of 19 countries around the world that allow transgender people to serve openly in their armed forces.
“They take massive amounts of drugs,” Trump said, when asked to square his declared support for the LGBTQ community with his stance on transgender service members. “They have to … You would actually have to break rules and regulations in order to have that.”
Morgan noted that the costs of that medication are minuscule, and in fact pale in comparison to how much the military spends on Viagra. Trump said he was not aware of that fact before doubling down on his earlier claims.
“Well, it is what it is,” he said. “… People are going in and then asking for the ‘operation’; ‘the operation’ is $200,000, $250,000, and getting ‘the operation,’ the recovery period is long, and they have to take large amounts of drugs after that, for whatever reason, but large amounts.”
“You can’t do that,” he added. “So I said yeah, when it came time to making a decision on that, and because of the drugs, and because of the cost of ‘the operation.'”
Morgan pushed back, citing the many decorated transgender service members targeted by the new policy. Trump claimed he was proud of them, but insisted, “You have to have a standard and you have to stick by that standard,” adding that high drug costs would “blow it out of the water.”
'You have to have a standard and you have to stick by that standard.'
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) June 5, 2019
Trump has made similar claims about the supposedly high cost of drugs to justify his ban in the past. Actual figures, however, don’t support that claim.
The RAND Corporation study that prompted President Barack Obama to lift the ban in 2016 estimated that transgender health costs would reach approximately $8.4 million at most, a fraction of the military’s health care expenditures. A report from earlier this year also found that the military had only spent $8 million total since the ban was first lifted, treating more than 1,500 troops.
In total, the military spends about $50 billion on health care every year.
Trump’s estimates for the cost of surgeries are also wildly overblown. About $2 million has been spent on 161 surgeries thus far, meaning that on average, the procedures cost between $12,000 and $13,000 — far from Trump’s claims of $200,000 and $250,000.
It’s true that transgender people often take medication in the form of hormone replacement therapy. But service members often take other kinds of medication for an array of health issues as well, while also deployed in combat zones.
During the Trump administration’s own study attempting to legitimize the ban, a military medical expert testified that “roughly three times more cisgender men want testosterone supplements than transgender patients,” demonstrating that the medication transgender people might require is already widely used in the military.
The administration has offered very different justifications for the ban in documentation and in court from what the president offered Tuesday.
When the administration “reissued” the previously rolled-back ban in March 2018, the accompanying report emphasized several points; “disproportionate costs” was only discussed in one paragraph, with the administration claiming that medical costs for individuals with gender dysphoria had tripled. It failed to provide any context as to whether this increase contradicted the “negligible” increases the RAND Corporation study had predicted, but the 2019 numbers clearly show it came nowhere close.
Other justifications for the ban included several anti-transgender tropes spread regularly by anti-LGBTQ groups. For example, the report claimed that cisgender women would have “privacy” concerns sharing facilities with transgender women and this would negatively impact “unit cohesion.” One federal judge lambasted this as an unacceptable “excuse to prevent an otherwise qualified class of discrete and insular minorities from joining the armed forces,” noting that the same excuse had previously been used to try to keep out women, people of color, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
The report also falsely claimed that there was “considerable scientific uncertainty” about whether transgender people benefit from transitioning. It suggested that transgender people are mentally unstable and more prone to suicide based on a common — and widely debunked — misinterpretation of a study from Sweden.
All major medical organizations support allowing transgender people to serve, with the American Psychological Association rebuking “the administration’s misuse of psychological science to stigmatize transgender Americans and justify limiting their ability to serve in uniform and access medically necessary health care.”
At a House hearing in February, administration officials also testified that being transgender was comparable to having a debilitating disease like cancer or heart disease.