Update: The Defense Department itself has now contradicted Trump’s claim that service-members are “not allowed to take any drugs" and that transgender troops can’t serve because of this.
“The Military Health System covers all approved medically necessary treatments and prescription medications,” DOD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said. “If a service member has a hormone deficiency for any reason (such as hypogonadism, hypothyroidism, menopause, etc.), he or she would be prescribed hormones.”
Maxwell also assured that existing troops who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the transgender ban went into place in April “will continue to receive all medically necessary treatment.”
Two years after President Trump announced his transgender military ban and two months after a version of it went into effect, he offered a new and rather novel justification for it.
One he seems to have invented whole cloth.
Appearing on “Good Morning Britain” in an interview with his friend Piers Morgan, Trump said that transgender troops can’t serve because they need certain drugs, and that the U.S. military bans service members from taking drugs.
“Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to — and also, and you’re not allowed to take drugs,” he said. “You’re in the military, you’re not allowed to take any drugs.”
Referring to people who have gender reassignment surgery, he added: “They have no choice; they have to. And you would actually have to break rules and regulations to have that.”
Although Trump has in the past cited the cost of gender reassignment surgery to justify his transgender troop ban — a case he again made in this interview — this appears to be the first time he has cited a prohibition on members of the military taking drugs.
Experts say it’s not true that service members are “not allowed to take any drugs” or that they can’t take the specific drugs used for gender reassignment.
“This statement is incorrect,” said Jane Schacter, an expert on gender and sexuality law at Stanford University. “Many members of the military use prescription medication, and it is made available to them worldwide. Hormone therapy, in particular, is prescribed, including to manage the gynecological needs of non-transgender service members.”
Joshua Safer, the head of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System, agreed.
“The hormones taken by transgender individuals are not prohibited by the military,” he said. “Medication for transgender people in the military would be — and is currently, for those transgender individuals already serving in the military — handled similarly to other prescribed medication where an emergency interruption is not life threatening.”
Aaron Belkin, an advocate for LGBTQ rights in the military who runs the Palm Center, said, “Cisgender troops are allowed to serve and even to deploy to combat zones even if they’re taking the exact same medications that transgender individuals require."
It’s also important to note that not all transgender people undergo gender reassignment surgery or take prescription hormones, so even if such prescribed drugs were prohibited, it wouldn’t necessarily mean transgender troops would have to be banned from serving. Trump’s comments seem to suggest that these drugs would be required for all transgender troops; they’re not.
"The recovery period [after gender reassignment surgery] is long, and they have to take large amounts of drugs after that for whatever reason — but large amounts, and that’s not the way it is,” Trump said. “I mean, you can’t do that. So I said, yeah, when it came time to make a decision on that and because of the drugs and also because of the cost of the operation.”
The military does have certain restrictions on what kinds of prescription drugs certain types of service members can take — pilots and fight crews, for instance. But the military has even relaxed some of those standards in recent years. Earlier this year, for instance, the Navy decided to allow flight personnel with mental health disorders to take psychotropic drugs.
When Trump initially announced the transgender military ban, he declared that the government would “not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” The actual ban technically allows transgender troops to serve as long as they haven’t been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, haven’t transitioned, and abide by the military’s rules for their biological gender. Transgender advocates have argued that that is, practically speaking, a complete ban.