“I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” says the Army private who was sentenced to 35 years in prison Aug 21 for passing classified documents to WikiLeaks.
“Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition,” Manning says in the statement entitled “The Next Stage of My Life,” read on the Today show.
She added, “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.”
Manning also thanked her supporters in the statement.
“I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years . . . Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.”
Both the defence and prosecution had raised Manning’s struggles with her gender identity at trial.
Referring to his client using both male and female pronouns on the Today show, Manning’s defence lawyer, David Coombs, says the stress his client was under gave “context to what was going on at the time” but adds that it was “never an excuse because that's not what drove his actions. What drove his actions was a strong moral compass."
Coombs says he hopes Fort Leavenworth, where Manning is expected to serve her sentence, will “do the right thing” and provide her with hormone therapy. He says he will advocate on her behalf to force them to do so.
According to Today, the Army issued the following statement about Manning’s decision to seek hormone therapy:
“Inmates at the United States Disciplinary Barracks and Joint Regional Correctional Facility are treated equally regardless of race, rank, ethnicity or sexual orientation. All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science noncommissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement.”
The statement also reads, “The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder. The USDB has implemented risk assessment protocols and safety procedures to address high risk factors identified with the Prison Rape Elimination Act."
Today notes that transgender prisoners in the American prison system who haven’t undergone surgery are typically assigned to live with their birth-sex peers, but the military’s policy is not clear.
Coombs, who spoke to independent journalist Alexa O'Brien after Manning's sentencing, says the "most damage done was the sentence that my client received."
Referring to the leaked information in the diplomatic cables, Coombs says, "The damage there was an embarrassment of having other people see that we don't always do the right thing for the right reasons, as the United States, which might come as a surprise to some people.
"Because if people actually look to those documents, they'll see that we don't always do what we should do and we're not always the country we should strive to be."
Speaking with The Huffington Post, O'Brien said in summary, "Fundamentally this trial has been really orchestrated by the government through the lack of access to the public as well as to the media," she told Sacks. "What they've been able to do is use their closed sessions to hide information from the scrutiny of people who are interested in this case, who want to report on this case, to see whether or not there actually was damage."