News & Opinion

LGBT issues

Meet Drew Layne, the 16-year-old suing Trump over his transgender military ban

The Daily Beast

August 28, 2017

Drew Layne wants to enlist in the Air Force. But the 16-year-old high school student from Corpus Christi, Texas, may be prevented in fulfilling his goal if President Trump’s desired ban on transgender people serving in the military is fully implemented.

On Monday, Layne was announced as one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Washington State by LGBT advocacy groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN challenging President Trump’s ban.

The other plaintiffs alongside Layne are Ryan Karnoski, a 22-year-old Seattle man who currently works as a social worker and wishes to become an officer doing social work for the military, and Staff Sergeant Cathrine (“Katie”) Schmid, a 33-year-old woman and 12-year member of the U.S. Army currently serving in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, who has applied to become an Army Warrant Officer.

A second lawsuit, representing another group of trans plaintiffs, was also filed Monday in Maryland by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Both lawsuits followed Trump’s formal issuance of directions to military authorities on Friday evening to institute the ban, which would affect an estimated 1,320 to 6,630 serving trans personnel. (An estimated 830 to 4,160 trans members are in reserves duty.)

A third lawsuit, filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders in federal court in Washington D.C., and suing Trump to block the ban, followed a fortnight after his first tweets on the matter on July 26: “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” And: “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

The White House’s Friday memorandum directed the military to continue to enforce the ban on trans people from enlisting in the military, and barred serving trans personnel from becoming officers, and instructed the military to cease providing medical care for transition surgery.

In the directive, Trump appeared to give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis discretion in how to approach the cases of those trans members already serving, and asked for a policy on the matter to be in place within six months.

Layne, who turns 17 on Wednesday, told the Daily Beast: “In my experience anyone who is meeting the necessary requirements should be able to serve openly.” He wanted to serve because his family has a military background, he said. “I think the ban would affect a lot of people’s futures.They would like to serve and protect their homeland, and it’s basically cutting out people’s futures and plans. I wanted to be part of this lawsuit to be a voice for myself and others who want to serve their country.”


‘This is discrimination’

Layne would like to join the Air Force to be a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) specialist, teaching Air Force personnel how to survive in challenging circumstances. He has always been adventurous, and loves the outdoors. “It would be a great journey to start something like that as a career,” he said.

Layne was optimistic about the legal case: “I believe if people come together and fight for everyone to be able to join that we will make it.”

Laura Garza, Layne’s mother, told the Daily Beast she was a conservative voter, and agreed with “several of Trump’s political viewpoints and plans. But on this subject I disagree with him completely. It’s a very ignorant and ill-informed point of view and frame of mind.

“As a mother, I have learned first-hand that this is not choice that’s made, it’s actually the way someone is born. It’s to do with my child, and therefore I support my child and anything my child wishes to do. This is discrimination, and limited to a population of people based on something extremely personal. It shouldn’t be taken into consideration when these people want to serve their country.

“To dedicate their selves and lives to their country is a noble, thoughtful, and selfless thing to do. If they’re physically and intellectually able to do it, and pass the tests like everyone else, they should be allowed to serve.”

Ignorance and prejudice compound the difficulties trans people like her son faced, added Garza. She was “extremely proud” to see him take the stand he was taking. Trump’s actions on the trans ban would affect her vote in the future, she added.

Before Trump took the issue on so personally, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had delayed the entry of transgender troops until January 2018. “The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces,” a statement from his chief spokesperson read.

A RAND Corporation study in 2016 found that allowing transgender people to serve openly would “cost little and have no significant impact on unit readiness.”

The same study estimated that the cost to the Pentagon of transition health procedures would be $2.9 million to $4.2 million a year, a fraction of a total military health budget, estimated to be around $49.3 billion.

On June 30, 2016 then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter said: “Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly. They can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”

Trump’s July tweets and now directive signal a seismic shift—not least banning outright trans people from joining the military—which has been widely criticized by veteran groups, retired generals, and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, who said Friday: “It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense personnel policy.”


‘Their willingness to fight is very inspiring’

Chase Strangio, a Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project, said: “The president has enacted a policy that is targeting a group of people without any rational justification for it at all, and even going against the well-researched and studied policy that went into effect in 2016 allowing transgender individuals to serve.”

The plaintiffs in the ACLU suit are First Class Brock Stone, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 9 years, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan; Staff Sergeant Cole, who has served in the U.S. Army for almost 10 years, including a one-year deployment to Afghanistan where she served as a team leader and designated marksman; Senior Airman Doe who has served for approximately six years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, where he was awarded “Airman of the Year” for his flight; Airman First Class George, a member of the Air National Guard; Petty Officer First Class Gilbert, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 13 years; and Technical Sergeant Parker who has served in the Marine Corps for four years and has served in the Air National Guard for 16 years, currently as a fuel technician.

The ACLU said none of the plaintiffs were available for comment.

Strangio said that the U.S. Constitution was “absolutely clear that the government cannot discriminate against a class of people based on moral disapproval or animus, or stereotypes about that group which is precisely what this is about.”

Strangio was confident that Trump’s ban would be ultimately struck down, but noted the damage and harm it is doing when it comes to the withdrawal of health benefits and the sudden job insecurity and panic being experienced by those trans servicepeople within the armed forces.

Trans servicepeople are feeling “betrayed by the government,” Strangio added. “Just last year they were told they could come out and serve openly. Now everything is being retracted and everything they have worked for is being threatened. They are worried and scared. They’re concerned to work in such a hostile climate where the Commander-in-Chief is willing to stand up and propagate lies about them and encourage other people to take discriminatory action against them.

“What so many trans people in service has shown is a resilience and dedication to justice in the midst of so much anger pain and frustration. Their willingness to fight is very inspiring.”

The effects of the ban, while not officialized, are already taking hold, Strangio said. The ACLU has heard that trans servicepeople have the support of colleagues and commanders, as well as veterans and retired generals, who have also been vocal in their support.

“The filings don’t stop the ban from going into effect,” Strangio cautioned. “People are already having their healthcare withheld. People are being told they can’t re-enlist, or being barred from re-enlisting. The goal of the lawsuits is to stop that from happening, and to put the policy on hold while the cases make their way through court.”


‘I have to keep fighting for what I think is right’

Natalie Nardecchia, one of the attorneys representing Drew Layne, told the Daily Beast she was confident in taking on his case. “We have found due process, equal protection, and free speech claims. There is also clear animus towards the transgender community.”

The Lambda Legal/OutServe suit particularly challenges the ban on trans people joining the military.

The Friday memorandum, said Nardecchia, “created lot of uncertainty and a bad situation for those who are currently serving in the military and who have come out as transgender based on prior promises and changes made in the policy.”

Layne told the Daily Beast that joining the military remained his main focus, but that if the ban on joining remains in place then he would go to college and most likely study marine biology.

“Honestly it has been a stressful thing for me to go through. But I have to keep fighting for what I think is right, and I won’t stop until what’s wrong is right,” he said.

If he could address President Trump directly, Layne said, “I would tell him someone’s gender identity should not affect whether or not they get a job done.”