Less than a week after Chelsea Manning launched a hunger strike to protest abuse behind bars, the U.S. Army promised her gender dysphoria treatment. With that promise, Manning could become the first transgender prisoner to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
According to a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday, the military conceded to letting her have the surgery, which was prescribed by a psychologist in April. Manning, the former soldier turned WikiLeaks whistleblower, received a 35-year prison sentence in 2013, the same year she came out as a trans woman. Nevertheless, she’s been locked up in men’s prison and denied care that’s considered “medically necessary and recommended,” said the ACLU, which filed a lawsuit on Manning’s behalf in 2014.
While Manning has access to hormone treatment, the military has done little else to accommodate her gender dysphoria, which is defined as “clinically significant distress” from identifying as a gender that differs from one’s biological sex. In addition to denying her surgery, she’s been forced to cut her hair to what’s considered an appropriate length for men, she wrote in a personal statement last Friday. Manning has also been bullied, “driven to suicide by the lack of care,” and punished ever since the attempt, she added.
The Army’s decision was made just five days after Manning decided to protest the cruel conditions of her confinement.
“I have asked for help time and time again for six years and through five separate confinement locations. My request has only been ignored, delayed, mocked, given trinkets and lip service by the prison, the military, and this administration,” she wrote at the start of her protest. “Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison — or by anyone within the U.S. government. I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect — that I once actually believed would be provided for — afforded to any living human being.”
At the time, she announced that she was refusing to cut her hair voluntarily, eat, and drink beverages other than water she needed to take her medication.
Manning’s abuses have been well-documented, since the start of her sentence. She’s been locked in solitary confinement multiple times for egregious reasons, such as holding on to expired toothpaste and owning books about transgender rights. She was also threatened with solitary confinement after her suicide attempt.
“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me,” Manning explained in the ACLU’s press release. “But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended 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.”
How long it will take the military to follow through on its latest promise remains to be seen. In the past, the Army dragged its feet on the question of whether or not Manning should have access to hormone therapy. The United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) also investigated the safety risks of growing her hair out for seven months, before deciding it would be too dangerous.
Becoming the first trans prisoner to receive gender reassignment surgery would be a monumental step for people experiencing gender dysphoria behind bars. Most people are still denied hormone therapy, let alone surgery, even though the Department of Justice ruled that denying it is unconstitutional.