Chelsea Manning Granted Sex-Transition Surgery

     (CN) — The day of Chelsea Manning’s sentencing for sending WikiLeaks a massive trove of secrets, her lawyer took a bold stance against Army regulations keeping surgery off the table for transgender prisoners.
     “I’m gonna change that,” attorney David Coombs told reporters on Aug. 21, 2013.
     Some three years later, Manning announced Tuesday afternoon that she will become the first transgender prisoner in the Army history slated to receive sex-reassignment surgery.
     “I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing,” Manning said in a statement through her attorneys. “I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me.”
     The path to Manning’s transition has been long and bumpy, as the soldier’s many struggles for medical care behind bars echoed major institutional shifts at the Pentagon.
     Throughout her court-martial, Manning had been known to the world as Bradley, and she would not introduce herself as Chelsea until a day after it ended. That announcement had not been much of a surprise: Manning’s trial showcased the soldier’s struggle living as a closeted transgender woman at a time the military had not even repealed the policy on sexual orientation, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
     Before a military judge sentenced Manning to 35 years behind bars, a spokeswoman for her prison — U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. — exclusively told Courthouse News that it did not provide hormone therapy or surgery for transgender prisoners.
     After attorney Coombs vowed to challenge that policy, the American Civil Liberties Union joined him for a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C.
     Since then, the Pentagon experienced a paradigm shift on LGBT rights. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the military would shelve what he called its “outdated” ban on transgender enlistment, on the heels of studies showing transgender people were twice as likely to join the armed forces as other civilians.
     Reflecting on these gains in an interview, attorney Coombs took note of “significant positive steps in the last couple of years regarding transgender military personnel.”
     “I am very pleased that the Department of Defense has agreed to provide appropriate medical care for her,” Coombs said in an email. “Adequate medical care for Chelsea has been one those issues that has required a lot of hard work to achieve.”
     For Manning, the fight remains ongoing.
     Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who has taken the lead on Manning’s civil suit, said in a phone interview that the case remains active because the military — while apparently amenable to providing surgery — still refuses to let Manning grow her hair to female grooming standards.
     Strangio said this “denial of treatment” led to Manning’s suicide attempt in July.
     Manning escalated her protests by announcing a hunger strike on Friday. That ended Tuesday after prison officials showed Manning a treatment protocol in writing, Strangio said.
     Noting that doctors approved her treatment regimen long ago, Manning wondered “why it has taken so long.”
     “Also, why were such drastic measures needed?” she asked in a statement. “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.”
     Meanwhile, Manning still faces possible solitary confinement in prison proceedings connected to her earlier suicide attempt. Strangio believes such measures are especially inappropriate giving what provoked his client’s despair.
     “We hope that the government recognizes that charging Chelsea with the crime of being denied essential health care is outrageous and drops those charges,” Strangio said in a statement.
     Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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