Days after President Trump finally recognized June as LGBTQ Pride Month—a first for his presidency—the commander-in-chief doubled down on his administration’s ban of openly transgender people in the U.S. military.
His reason? Drugs.
During an interview on “Good Morning Britain” on Wednesday, commentator Piers Morgan, a friend of Trump’s, asked the president why he approved such a policy, especially after recently tweeting his support of the LGBTQ community.
“Because they take massive amounts of drugs,” Trump responded. “They have to. And you’re not allowed to take drugs; you’re in the military. You’re not allowed to take any drugs—you take an aspirin.”
They have to, he added, after “the operation,” referring to gender confirmation surgery. He also suggested that transgender people enter the military and “then [ask] for the operation, and the operation is $200,000, $250,000.”
“You have to have a standard and you have to stick by that standard,” he continued. “We have a great military and I want to keep it that way. And maybe [transgender service members] would be phenomenal, I think they probably would be.”
“But, again, you have very strict rules and regulations on drugs and prescription drugs and all of these different things. And they blow it out of the water,” the president added.
Experts, however, point out that Trump’s statements are incorrect: People who serve in the military are in fact allowed to take prescription medications.
“The hormones taken by transgender individuals are not prohibited by the military,” Joshua Safer, the head of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System, told the Washington Post.
There’s no evidence that transgender service members use prescription medications more than anyone else. Almost half of all Americans—which includes those who serve in the armed forces—report taking at least one prescription drug in the past month. And, importantly, research shows the health of transgender veterans is comparable to that of cisgender veterans.
Additionally, not all transgender people undergo hormone replacement therapy or even want to pursue a gender reassignment surgery. And for those who do, the cost of surgery is substantially less than what Trump claimed it to be, ranging from $6,000 to $150,000, according to Healthline.
“It’s abundantly clear the president has no idea what he’s talking about,” said Gillian Branstetter, spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality. Not only do his comments portray transgender people broadly, but they are also “dismissive of the 13,000 transgender service members that are impacted by this policy. They portray people who have signed up to serve their country as a burden.”
Wednesday’s interview was one of the few times Trump has talked publicly about policy issues impacting the transgender community.
Last year, he sidestepped a question about media reports on a proposal to redefine gender based on genitalia at birth by telling reporters, “We have a lot of different concepts right now. They have a lot of different things happening with respect to transgender right now.”
On Twitter, where he prefers to speak to Americans directly, the only time he’s ever tweeted about the trans community is when he set the whole transgender military ban in motion almost two years ago.
During Wednesday’s interview, Morgan told Trump the military spends more money on medication for erectile dysfunction for male service members than it does on healthcare for transgender troops.
Trump responded, “I didn’t know they do that.”
But regardless of Trump’s own understanding of what it means to be a transgender person, “the administration is acting under both ignorance and malice,” Branstetter said.
As an example, she points to an exchange between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici during a House Education Committee hearing in April. When Bonamici asked DeVos if she was aware of the detrimental impact of rescinding Title IX protections designed to protect transgender students, DeVos admitted she was—and rescinded that guidance anyway.
And in recent weeks, a slew of recent regulatory changes from various government departments include rolling back important legal protections for trans people, including access to healthcare and housing.
“Our organization has met with administrative offices,” Branstetter said, “We have filed court briefs, and we have filed public comments making it abundantly clear the risks and damages posed by their policies, and they have moved forward with them anyway.”