Bradley Manning

This morning on NBC’s “Today” show, U.S. Army Pfc Bradley Manning, who was sentenced yesterday by a military judge to 35 years in prison for leaking 750,000 pages of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, declared that henceforth, he wants to live as a woman and to be called Chelsea, instead of Bradley.

The diminutive (5′ 2″, 105 lb.) Manning read from a prepared statement:

“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.”

Michael Pearson reports for CNN that Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Justin Platt, told CNN “The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery.”

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One Army official who was not authorized to speak publicly on Manning’s case said the private remains a male in the eyes of the Army. Another said Manning would be treated like any other prisoner: “A lot of the inmates have issues they’re dealing with. Even if you have gender identity disorder, you still serve your sentence.”

But Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, already is threatening that he’ll take action if the Army doesn’t provide Manning with the hormone therapy that he’s requesting of the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: “I’m hoping Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so.”

The issue of Manning’s gender identity repeatedly surfaced in the court martial proceedings. A widely circulated picture released by the military shows Manning in drag, wearing a blonde wig. The image came from an e-mail Manning sent to his sergeant titled, “My Problem,” in which Manning wrote: “It’s not going away, it’s haunting me more and more as I get older. Now, the consequences of it are dire, at a time when it’s causing me great pain in itself. As a result, I’m not sure what to do about it.”

Speaking in the sentencing phase of the court martial last week, Manning said the decision to leak 750,000 pages of classified documents came while “dealing with a lot of issues” — a reference to the gender identity crisis.

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Manning’s announcement brought a wide range of reaction. Some examples:

  • On Twitter, where “Chelsea Manning” was a hot topic of discussion, user onekade wrote of being “pretty much in awe of Chelsea Manning’s bravery, on so many fronts.”
  • Conservative pundit John Podhoretz tweeted: “Chelsea Manning. This country has officially jumped the shark.”

The issue of taxpayers being required to pay for gender reassignment surgery has come up repeatedly in recent court cases:

  • Earlier this year, a federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit brought by a transgender prisoner in Virginia, where the prison had refused to allow her to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
  • Last year a federal judge ordered Massachusetts to pay for a sex change operation for a convicted murderer. The state is appealing that decision.

According to Vincent Villano of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), there are few good statistics on the number of transgender inmates in U.S. prisons. Although a study of California prisons identified 330 transgender inmates in an overall prison population of 160,000, NCTE nevertheless believes those numbers are higher.

~Eowyn

Dr. Eowyn is the Editor of Fellowship of the Minds and a regular contributor to The D.C. Clothesline.