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Chelsea Manning Sues Over Transgender Treatment in Prison

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on September 24, 2014 12:54 PM

Back in 2010, Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was arrested for supplying WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents; he claimed his actions were rooted in the public's right to be aware of what the government was doing abroad.

Manning was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Shortly thereafter, Manning came out as transgender and wanted to be known as "Chelsea Manning," a request most news outlets have been happy to abide by.

Though Manning has repeatedly requested a treatment plan to accommodate her gender dysphoria, the Army has stalled. As a result, Manning -- through the ACLU -- filed a complaint Tuesday in the D.C. District Court alleging deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Specifically, Manning's complaint alleges that no one in the chain of command responded to her requests for a treatment plan for her gender dysphoria.

The requests included "permission to: follow female grooming standards, including standards related to hair length; have female-specific issued clothing; and be given additional female health and grooming items." The request goes back to November 2013. Manning also requested treatment in the form of hormone therapy.

The complaint states that the military itself agreed with Manning's gender dysphoria diagnosis, that civilian prisons in the federal system provide treatment for that condition, but that the Army refuses to do anything to help her. Repeated requests for treatment through the military's complaint system went unanswered, and the only time it was answered, the complaint was rejected due to a technical deficiency.

Red Tape

The only issue in this complaint is Manning's ability to outwardly express her gender, referred to as "real-life experience treatment." Even that small accommodation is being stonewalled.

There are structural impediments to providing Manning with treatment. She appears to be the first transgendered military prisoner the Defense Department has seen, and no military prison provides the type of treatment Manning seeks. Military prisoners have been transferred to civilian prisons, but only once they've been discharged from the military. Manning hasn't been discharged from the Army and still holds the rank of private. It's likely she won't be discharged until she completes her sentence -- in a military prison, in 35 years.

This complaint, of course, is just the beginning of a long and involved process that will get into the thorny new realm not only how we treat transgender people, but transgender inmates as well.

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