Why Chelsea Manning’s Gender Treatment Victory Matters
The Bureau of Prisons has reportedly denied the Army’s request to move Private Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison and so the Army must provide Manning with a “rudimentary level” of gender affirmation related care, a precedent-setting decision that the Army had tried to avoid.
Manning, who is currently serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, sought to begin gender change-related treatment at the time of her incarceration, requesting that she be allowed to begin hormone therapy.
The Army denied that request, claiming that it had no responsibility to provide Manning gender confirmation treatment because she had not begun the treatment prior to being put in prison. Previous court rulings have found that the army must, by its own standards, provide medical care but no court opinion has yet adjudicated whether the military or the prison service must facilitate gender alignment treatment if the prisoner didn’t begin prior to entering prison.
However, the military had recognized Manning’s diagnosed gender dysphoria during her lengthy trial, and indeed had even tried to suggest she was unstable because of it. As such, Manning’s lawyers argued that denying Manning gender dysphoria treatment when the Army’s own psychologists had assessed Manning and confirmed her gender dysphoria would be cruel and unusual punishment.
Legal experts believed that, while the courts have yet to break ground in this area, Manning’s case would be a strong one. Not only that, but it would likely have served to put a fresh spotlight on Manning and, indeed, the military abuses the files she released had revealed to the world.
As we previously reported, the Army floated the idea of having Manning moved from the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to a civilian prison, saying that the Army doesn’t have the medical expertise needed to offer this kind of care. A transfer of this kind would have been virtually unprecedented because Manning had not been found to be violent herself, nor had she complained of any prisoners posing a threat to her physical or mental wellbeing while at Fort Worth — indeed, her lawyers contend that prisoners have treated Manning well even knowing about her gender transition, and that they will oppose any attempt to move Manning to a civilian prison.
Now an unnamed source has told the press that the US Bureau of Prisons has rejected the Army’s request to transfer Manning, and that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has authorized the Army to give Manning a “rudimentary level” of gender transition-related care. Precisely what that means isn’t yet clear but Chelsea Manning’s lawyers say they are “hopeful” that this means hormone replacement therapy will be provided.
“We are monitoring the situation to ensure that the Army provides Ms. Manning with medically-necessary treatment consistent with their clear constitutional obligations and are prepared to take any legal action necessary to ensure that Ms. Manning receive the treatment that she needs without any further delay,” Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project is quoted as saying.
Earlier this year Secretary Hagel said that the army’s policy against open service for trans soldiers, and indeed the way it cares for trans veterans, should be “continuously reviewed,” indicating that while he was not ready to embark on the process of changing military rules yet, it was a possibility in the relatively near future.
Will the decision to offer Manning at least some gender change-related care be the first step toward dismantling the anti-trans ban? It would be premature to say this will strike a decisive blow against that ban because Manning’s situation is unique. However, it does seem that Hagel’s permission opens the door for others in the military to at least test the waters about gender-related care and as such may ultimately hasten the dismantling of a ban that is unfounded and discriminatory.
For the estimated 5,000 active trans military personnel and 130,000 trans veterans, this decision is undeniably encouraging while we still focus on the fact that an end to the ban cannot come soon enough.
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