President Donald Trump defended his administration’s efforts to ban transgender people from serving in the military in an interview that aired in the UK on Wednesday, saying that America’s armed services had to have a “standard” and stick to it.
Trump, who is currently in the UK for a three-day state visit, spoke for an hour with ITV’s Piers Morgan on a wide range of topics related to his policies. When asked about his administration’s new policy that effectively prohibits transgender troops from serving, the president stood firmly behind his decision and inexplicably pointed to the amount of medication transgender service members need to take as the basis for keeping them out of the military.
“They take massive amounts of drugs, they have to, and you’re not allowed to take drugs,” Trump said of transgender service members. “I’m proud of them, but you have to have a standard, and you have to stick by that standard, and we have a great military and I want to keep it that way.”
It’s unclear what figures Trump is referring to, but he has pointed to “tremendous medical costs and disruption” before.
Around 10,000 transgender people may be serving in the military, according to a study released by the RAND Corporation in 2016. But the Pentagon has spent just $8 million on transgender health care since 2016, a tiny percentage of the military’s annual health care budget of more than $50 billion, the Associated Press reported in March.
The president’s transgender military ban went into effect in April amid several lawsuits from civil rights groups. The policy bars anyone who has transitioned or who is openly transgender from enlisting in the military, and says that those who come out while serving can be discharged. The U.S. Supreme Court told the Trump administration its ban could go into effect while the cases made their way through the court system in January.
Morgan had asked Trump about a tweet he sent out at the end of last month recognizing June as Pride Month, while at the same time standing by the ban on transgender service members.
“It is what it is,” Trump said during his response. “And also massive amounts of people going in and then asking for the operation, and the operation is $200,000, $250,000, and they have to take large amounts of drugs for that, large amounts, and you can’t do that.”
Those figures appear to be wildly overstated. CBS notes that the Pentagon spent around $2 million on 161 surgeries related to gender dysphoria between 2016 and February 2019, or about $12,000 a procedure. And medical experts have said that even at the extremely high end, many surgeries would only clock in at about half of Trump’s figures.
President Barack Obama began allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military in 2016.
The Trump administration has also moved to revoke health care discrimination protections for transgender Americans last month, arguing that “gender identity” is not protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.
This story has been updated with additional figures.