Army Pfc. Bradley Manning said Thursday that he will live as a woman and seek hormone replacement therapy while incarcerated, confronting the military prison system with a demand that has prompted state and federal institutions to reluctantly offer similar treatment to inmates.
"I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," the former intelligence analyst wrote in a statement released on NBC's "Today" show just a day after he was sentenced to 35 years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for leaking classified documents.
The Army issued a statement saying Manning will receive counseling from mental health professionals at the all-male prison, but that the Army does not "provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder."
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, was equally adamant that he will try to change that policy, foreshadowing another legal battle between a transgendered person and a prison bureaucracy. With Manning's profile already sky-high as a result of his conviction and sentencing, the conflict seems likely to keep the 25-year-old in the public eye for the foreseeable future.
Manning's statement wasn't a complete surprise.
Four hours of testimony in the sentencing portion of the soldier's trial was devoted to mental health issues, including his struggle with gender dysphoria, as the condition is known. Manning received the diagnosis in May 2010, shortly before he was arrested in connection with transmitting hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the organization WikiLeaks.
Still, Manning's statement that "I am Chelsea Manning. ... I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun" was unexpected.
"Private Manning is facing 35 years in prison and needs to make a decision about what she's going to be doing for all those years," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. With parole eligibility seven years away, "now is a pretty good time for Private Manning to determine what she's going to do for that period of time, what kind of person she's going to be."
Greg Rinckey, a former Army judge advocate general, said he expects the Pentagon to "take the position that Private Manning is still male," citing the fact that he hasn't gone through surgery.
"If he fears for his safety, he can be put in isolation or protective custody," Mr. Rinckey said. He said he thinks Manning's attorneys are trying to get him transferred from Fort Leavenworth to a federal prison. "The military has the ability to do that," he said. "It is rare, but it can happen."
The impact on public opinion of Manning's announcement is difficult to predict, because his decision to leak classified information was already controversial, said Amy Stone, a sociology and anthropology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio. But Manning's familiarity to many Americans could help promote greater acceptance of transgendered people, she said.
"Whenever someone we know comes out as gay, lesbian or transgender, it impacts us differently than it does when we don't know them at all," she said. "There was a lot of invisibility around transgender issues in the past."
In recent years, a federal judge has ordered Massachusetts corrections officials to provide an inmate's sex-change operation, and federal prisons were forced by a lawsuit to offer hormone therapy to prisoners, even if they were not receiving them before incarceration.
The Constitution's Eighth Amendment guarantees prisoners humane treatment, including the right to adequate medical treatment, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf wrote in 2012, when he ordered the state of Massachusetts to provide Michelle Kosilek with sex reassignment surgery. The protections apply to military prisoners as well. The state has appealed the decision.
"Our detention facilities have to provide a basic level of health care," said Chris Daley, deputy executive director of Just Detention International. "That's a constitutional right that everybody has. Beyond that, it's just good management," he said.nation