Chelsea Manning's Big Win For Transgender Equality

Photo: AP Images

In a historic first, the U.S. Army will allow Chelsea Manning to receive hormone treatments while in prison. Manning is the soldier who was convicted of releasing classified documents to the site Wikileaks, and is currently serving a 35-year sentence. 

Chelsea (née Bradley Manning), who made her gender identity public soon after her conviction, will be the first military inmate to receive treatment for gender dysphoria. Her treatment plan involves hormones, possible surgery, and the right to live and dress as a woman. However, she has still been barred from growing her hair, a right afforded to female prisoners.

"[Cheslea] has fought her whole life, and particularly over the course of the past few years, to be seen and affirmed as who she is — as Chelsea," Chase Strangio, Manning's lawyer at the ACLU, told us. "We are thrilled for Chelsea that the government has finally agreed to initiate hormone therapy as part of her treatment plan. This is an important first step in Chelsea's treatment regimen, and one that is in line with the recommendations of all of her doctors and the basic requirements of the Eighth Amendment."

Manning, who's 26, was convicted in August 2013 after sending 700,000 documents to the anti-secrecy site while she was stationed in Iraq. She legally changed her name in April 2014, and has been fighting for treatment since her imprisonment. 

While the move is being hailed as a victory for LGBT rights, advocates caution there's still much more to do. The U.S. military still bars service by transgender people (Chelsea cannot be released from service while she's in prison), and her treatment is still partial and was much delayed. 

"Meanwhile, the fight continues," Strangio, her lawyer, said. "The military continues to refuse to let Chelsea grow her hair like other female prisoners, a critical part of her treatment plan that has been recognized by her doctors. The resistance to meeting Chelsea's full treatment needs is a reflection of the deeply entrenched stigma associated with transgender health care."

The Army lags behind many other organizations when it comes to transgender health rights. The V.A. pays for counseling and hormones (though not surgery) for trans* vets. The federal prison system (along with many state systems) provides care to men and women diagnosed with gender dysphoria, as well. 

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