NPR Story
4:32 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

'I Am Chelsea': Bradley Manning Wants To Live As A Woman

Originally published on Thu August 22, 2013 4:10 pm

Through his lawyer, Bradley Manning released a statement this morning explaining his plans to live the remainder of his life as a female.

Referring to himself as “Chelsea,” Manning wants to “begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”

The statement comes one day after the Army private was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending classified military and diplomatic documents, as well as battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Currently, Fort Leavenworth — the military prison where Manning will serve his sentence — does not provide hormone therapy treatment.

Lawyers had presented evidence of Manning’s struggle with gender identity during his trial.

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Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

The military is confronting gender issues. In a few minutes, benefits for same-sex married couples, they begin soon. But first, Bradley Manning has asked to spend a 35-year prison term as a woman. The Army private who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks said in a written statement today: I am Chelsea Manning, I am female. Given the way that I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.

His lawyer, David Coombs, told the "Today" show this was just the right time for the announcement.

DAVID COOMBS: Chelsea didn't want to have this be something that overshadowed the case, wanted to wait until the case was done to move forward to the next stage of her life.

YOUNG: Well, we will also refer to Manning as she or her, as she has now requested. Adam Klasfeld, a reporter for Courthouse News, covered the Manning trial at Fort Mead in Maryland and joins us by Skype for a look at gender identity disorder. A warning: This may not be appropriate for all ears.

But Adam, it was part of Manning's defense, he's not gay, he feels like a woman trapped in a man's body, has been sentenced to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. What have prison officials said about his request?

ADAM KLASFELD: Fort Leavenworth's spokesperson had announced to Courthouse News a couple days before the trial that they do not provide hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery.

YOUNG: We should note that Fort Leavenworth is an all-male prison and the only maximum-security military prison in the country. So this is an awkward situation for the military because they have an incoming inmate to an all-male prison who has said she sees herself as a woman.

KLASFELD: Yes, and it presents a very difficult road for Manning. One of the things that is known about Fort Leavenworth is that more than half of Fort Leavenworth inmates are in there for sex-related offenses. This is a particular problem in transgender prison populations.

There's a California study that transgender people in all-male prisons are at a heightened risk of rape.

YOUNG: OK, well, we'll take that up in a second, what that means. But meanwhile put this in context. What is happening with this request across the country, outside of military prisons?

KLASFELD: Well, a growing number of federal jurisdictions, both in district courts and appellate courts, have found that not giving transgender inmates hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The Fourth Circuit, which is the circuit governing, in fact, Maryland, where Manning was tried, is basically subject to a recent federal court decision, Fourth Circuit decision, saying that all transgender inmates who require that surgery must be able to obtain it.

In Boston there is a rather sensational case of a convicted wife killer who a federal judge had ordered be allowed to transition to female and obtain sex reassignment surgery. That decision is currently being heard by that appellate court. There's another appellate court ruling in the Chicago-based circuit, which also ruled that transgender prisoners have the right to hormone replacement therapy. It struck down the Wisconsin law that was trying to ban that practice.

So there's a growing tide throughout the country saying that such care is a basic medical right to prisoners.

YOUNG: Well, as you write, these judges that have ruled in this way say that rejecting such treatment for transgender prisoners constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, because in particular in the case of the hormone therapy, it is seen as - well, you quote one transgender as saying it's the best antidepressant, anti-anxiety drug I've ever been on. It's seen as a medical need.

KLASFELD: Absolutely, and the woman who I quoted there was Lauren McNamara. Now, she was a witness in Manning's defense. And she was speaking from her experience there, that this was something that she compared to denying blood pressure medication to someone with a heart condition.

YOUNG: Well, and we just want to point out that again, Manning's lawyer David Coombs explained that he is not asking for the sex-reassignment surgery at this time. He is asking, he or she, I suppose, is asking for the hormone replacement therapy. But again, Fort Leavenworth officials say they do not provide that. What do you think happens next?

KLASFELD: It seems to be that Attorney David Coombs is talking about an upcoming fight to force the prison, if necessary, to provide it. So we might see a lawsuit to see if military prisons will be the next location where we'll see prisons providing medical care to transgender prisoners.

YOUNG: Well, it's something the military is very aware of. As you point out, there are new studies that suggest that transgender civilians are twice as likely to enlist, some of them thinking that if they enlist in the military maybe that will change the way they feel. Transgender veterans, 20 times more likely to commit suicide. And the military has organized some task forces to address the issue of transgenders in the military.

KLASFELD: This development comes at a time when the Pentagon is really trying to become more inclusive to the LGBT community. One footnote to that, a couple of months ago, the Pentagon celebrated LGBT Pride Month, with the T included. So if the Pentagon wants to assert itself as friendly to the LGBT community, it's going to have to reconsider a lot of the transgender policies that are currently on the books, both in the military and in their prisons.

YOUNG: And including that the military officially bans transgenders from serving. It's under a medical restriction.

KLASFELD: Yes, these same medical restrictions shoehorn transgender identity into voyeurism and many other categories that a lot of people in the transgender community find offensive.

YOUNG: Adam Klasfeld, reporter for Courthouse News, speaking to us by Skype on the news today that Army Private Bradley Manning now wants to be referred to as Chelsea and wants to live out her prison time, 35 years, as a woman. Adam, thank you.

KLASFELD: Thank you so much for having me.

YOUNG: Well as we said, the military is also responding to gay marriage. Benefits start soon for married, same-sex military couples, and the military is helping couples who want to get married by giving them extra leave to travel to places where they can legally get married.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Although Robin, we should mention that according to the military memo on this, each service member only permitted one such marriage leave in their career. So don't think you can go get married, get divorced and then do it again. Up next we're going to speak with an Air Force major about this moment in time.

Meanwhile, other stories we're following, the embattled sheriff of L.A. County, Lee Baca, facing calls to step down and not seek a fifth term. His department is at the center of a federal probe into widespread allegations of prisoner abuse. And Ichiro Suzuki got his 4,000th hit last night, joining Ty Cobb and Pete Rose as the only baseball players to reach that milestone. These and other stories later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Meanwhile, we're back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.