The US soldier who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified US documents to WikiLeaks, known to most as PfC. Bradley Manning, has formally announced that she is transitioning genders to live her life gender identity aligned as Chelsea Manning.
In a statement issued through her lawyers on Thursday, Manning thanked her supporters and wrote:
As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.
On Wednesday Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison having been found guilty on 20 counts including several violations of the US Espionage Act, though she was acquitted last month of the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy.” She is due to serve her sentence at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas.
Manning was arrested on May 26, 2010, after she was found to have leaked hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables which detailed over five decades-worth of information including top secret–though arguably not necessarily sensitive–documents about the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan.
In particular, the documents Manning leaked revealed apparent human rights abuses committed by US soldiers and authorities, including those perpetrated against Guantanamo detainees and footage of US airstrikes that killed civilians. All of this Manning said she wished to expose without ever meaning to harm US interests.
Manning, whose sentence will automatically be reduced due to her time in solitary confinement and later a military jail before her trial, will likely have to launch a legal appeal in order to access the hormone treatment necessary for her gender transition as a spokesperson for Fort Leavenworth has already said that the prison will not provide it.
“All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science noncommissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement,” Kimberly Lewis is quoted as saying. ”The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.”
As Manning actually has a long, if complicated, history of identifying female and has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria there is a strong Constitutional claim that a denial of hormone therapy amounts to cruel punishment.
“This is the United States. We do not deny medical treatment to prisoners,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National National Center for Transgender Equality is quoted as saying. “It is illegal, it’s unconstitutional. That is fairly settled law under the eighth amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. The medical community is now unified that transition-related care is legitimate medical care that can successfully treat a serious underlying condition.”
As Lambda Legal notes, gender dysphoria is medically recognized and hormone therapy is a standard treatment for those who require it.
As such, and since 2011, federal prisons and prisons that contract with the US Bureau of Prisons are required, upon request, to evaluate trans* inmates and, where necessary, provide a treatment plan for gender dysphoria, even if they were not receiving hormone therapy prior to entering the prison.
State prisons have tended to deny trans inmates the right to gender realignment as part of the prison services duty of care but successive courts have affirmed a ruling striking down a Wisconsin state law that specifically banned hormone therapy and gender confirming surgery for trans inmates. Other federal judges have also found that a denial of hormone therapy is a breach of a prisoner’s rights.
The Military, which as Manning’s case has already reminded us operates by its own rules, cannot be held to such standards of duty of care, but that the US Army will not be surprised by Chelsea Manning’s coming out barely needs to be said as her gender was well known to both military officials and many in the media. It even featured as part of her trial.
The court heard that Manning had previously engaged in Internet chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo, including:
“i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as [a] boy.”
Manning, whose mental health issues were also well known to the US Army despite their sending her to Iraq, sent a picture of herself presenting as a female to her therapist in April of 2010 with the subject “My Problem.”
When Manning was originally arrested, the trans community rightly called out what appeared to be a systematic erasure of her female identity and a mislabeling of her as gay.
In 2012 however, Manning’s supporters reportedly issued a statement saying (pronouns theirs):
“Everything we know from Bradley Manning’s friends, family, and legal defense team, is that he wishes to be referred to as Brad or Bradley until he’s able to get to the next stage of his life.”
With today’s news it appears Chelsea Manning is ready to meet that challenge. On the one hand she will be confined, but on the other she can now search for liberation from her birth-assigned sex that never truly reflected who she is and thus find a measure of freedom in what has widely been condemned as her unjust imprisonment.