Trump’s transgender military ban prompts mental health experts to clarify the science

"This discrimination has a negative impact on the mental health of those targeted."

Mental health organizations condemn Trump's transgender military ban. (CREDIT:  Pacific Press / Contributor via Getty Images)
Mental health organizations condemn Trump's transgender military ban. (CREDIT: Pacific Press / Contributor via Getty Images)

On Friday night, President Trump announced that he would once again attempt to ban transgender people from serving in the military, based on recommendations that their health concerns undermine military readiness. Since then, the nation’s two biggest mental health organizations have come forward to condemn that decision.

The American Psychiatric Association responded Saturday with a statement from APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “The APA stands firmly against discrimination against anyone, and this ban is a discriminatory action,” he said. “This ban not only harms those who have chosen to serve our country, but it also casts a pall over all transgender Americans. This discrimination has a negative impact on the mental health of those targeted.”

Levin insisted, “All Americans who meet the strenuous requirements and volunteer to serve in U.S. military should be given the opportunity to do so.”

The APA publishes the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM-5), which sets the diagnostic criteria used across the entire field. The latest edition of the manual, published in 2012, no longer classifies being transgender as a mental illness. The report informing the ban essentially discounts this understanding, casting doubt on the mental health of transgender people who have have transitioned.


In a statement published Monday, the American Psychological Association also took direct aim at this distorted research. “The American Psychological Association is alarmed by 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,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, CEO of the organization.

He added, “Substantial psychological research shows that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition, and does not, by itself, limit the ability of individuals to function well and excel in their work, including in military service. The science is clear that individuals who are adequately treated for gender dysphoria should not be considered mentally unstable.”

Evans specifically noted that there is no research supporting the ban’s conclusions. “No scientific evidence has shown that allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces has an adverse impact on readiness or unit cohesion,” he said. “What research does show is that discrimination and stigma undermine morale and readiness by creating a significant source of stress for sexual minorities that can harm their health and well-being.”

Both organizations have previously passed resolutions calling for full equality for transgender and gender nonconforming people in society.

According to reporting from both ThinkProgress and Slate, Vice President Pence was largely responsible for the latest iteration of the transgender military ban. Relying on anti-LGBTQ activists like Tony Perkins (Family Research Council) and Ryan T. Anderson (Heritage Foundation), Pence reportedly injected his own language and agenda into the memo, overruling Defense Secretary James Mattis, who reportedly supported allowing transgender people to enlist.


On Monday, Mattis was asked about the ban at a press conference, but declined to comment. “I think the statements stand on their own right now,” he said.