After a battle with the US Army dating back to her 2013 imprisonment on espionage charges, Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning) has finally won permission to receive gender reassignment surgery. As CNN reports, the former Army intelligence analyst could now become the first US prison inmate to undergo the procedure.
Manning, 28, who is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, had been on a hunger strike since September 9, and had attempted suicide in July, all stemming from to the government's apparent refusal to comply with her medically recommended treatment as a transgender woman. Manning issued a statement last week via the Chelsea Manning Support Network saying, "I needed help earlier this year. I was driven to suicide by the lack of care for my gender dysphoria that I have been desperate for... Yet, instead I am now being punished for surviving my attempt."
BuzzFeed first reported the news about the government's decision and Manning's notification of it, but they were unable to get confirmation from a military spokesperson, who only said, "We cannot and will not discuss the medical needs of individuals."
"I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing," Manning said in a statement, which was released by her ACLU attorney Chase Strangio and picked by ABC 7. "I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted for them to let me be me."
Manning goes on to say, "But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended back in April 2016. The recommendations for my hair length were back in 2014. In any case, I hope this sets a precedent for the thousands of trans people behind me hoping they will be given the treatment they need."
Manning previously filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense in August 2014 in order to allow her to take hormone treatment, wear cosmetics, and grow out her hair. In a painfully slow response that obviously necessitated ACLU involvement, the Army agreed to begin providing her with hormone treatments in 2015, but still refused to allow her to present herself as a woman or grow out her hair.
No timeline was given for Manning's surgery, however the DOD has a new policy around transgender service members that takes effect next month that says, in part, that if they receive "a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary [they] will be provided medical care and treatment for the diagnosed medical condition."
Strangio also issued a statement saying, "This is a monumental day for Chelsea, who can now enjoy some peace knowing that critically needed medical care is forthcoming... Thankfully the government has recognized its constitutional obligation to provide Chelsea with the medical care that she needs and we hope that they will act without delay to ensure that her suffering does not needlessly continue."
He adds that Manning is still facing charges before a military court next week relating to her suicide attempt.
Manning publicly came out as trans shortly after the end of her July 2013 court marshal and subsequent conviction, for which she is now serving 35 years. She was found to have illegally shared troves of classified military documents with WikiLeaks and Gawker would surmise, earlier in 2013, that Manning's disillusionment with the military, fondness for the hacker community, and decision to act out as she did was directly or indirectly connected to her struggles with her sexuality and gender identity.
Manning became the center of a controversy in San Francisco before the military trial and public coming out occurred, after the SF Pride board underwent an internal war over a decision to name Manning as an honorary grand marshal of that year's Pride parade. The board's decision to reneg on that decision led to an upheaval at the next board's election, and a contingent honoring Manning at that year's parade nonetheless got a special award.
In a related development in May 2014, brought by the case of a 74-year-old trans female Army veteran, Medicare reversed its earlier policy and began covering gender reassignment surgery.