On Thursday morning, Bradley Manning, who was just sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to the website WikiLeaks, released a statement that was read on TODAY.
"I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," Manning wrote. "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."
She added, "I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
It's not exactly a surprise that Manning identifies as transgender. During the trial, it was discovered that Manning discussed the issue with her supervisor, Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, in a letter from 2010:
This is my problem. I've had signs of it for a very long time. It's caused problems within my family. I thought a career in the military would get rid of it. It's not something I seek out for attention, and I've been trying very, very hard to get rid of it by placing myself in situations where it would be impossible. But, it's not going away; it's haunting me more and more as I get older. Now, the consequences of it are dire, at a time when it's causing me great pain it itself. [RMDA]
Included in the email, which had the subject line, "My Problem," was a photo of Manning wearing a long blond wig.
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, said this morning on TODAY that Manning didn't want to announce the change earlier because "Chelsea didn't want this to be something that overshadowed the case."
So what is next for Chelsea Manning?
Unless the general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington reduces her sentence or the president pardons her, she will spend at least seven years in prison — the amount of time before she is first eligible for parole.
Whether or not she will be able to receive treatment in prison is up in the air, especially considering the U.S. Army's official position on the matter:
On Bradley Manning, US Army says it does not provide hormone therapy, sex-assignment surgery for gender identity disorder— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 22, 2013
Still, while in prison, Manning will pursue hormone therapy, Coombs told TODAY. If Fort Leavenworth, where Manning will likely be held, doesn't provide it, Coombs indicated that she might sue.
The issue has come up before, most recently in Wisconsin when a federal appeals court struck down a state ban on hormone therapy for inmates. Wisconsin passed the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act in 2005 in response to fears that taxpayers were footing the bill for sex changes.
Ultimately, the court ruled, banning hormone therapy was unconstitutional, noting that if "inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and painkillers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional."
As for sex-reassignment surgery, Coombs said, "Chelsea hasn't indicated that was her desire."
If she does eventually decide that she wants surgery, however, she might be able to successfully sue for that as well. In 1999, Michelle Kosilek, formerly Robert Kosilek, filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction for not providing her with treatment for her gender identity disorder.
Kosilek, serving a life sentence without parole for murder, won her case in 2002 and started receiving hormone treatments and psychotherapy. In 2012, after she tried to castrate herself and commit suicide, a federal judge ruled that sex-reassignment surgery was the "only adequate treatment" treatment for Kosilek. The court decision is currently pending on appeal by the state of Massachusetts.
Lawsuits over hormone therapy and sex-reassignment therapy are rare and relatively new in state prisons; they are pretty much unprecedented in military prisons. That makes it tough to predict whether Manning would be able to successfully sue for treatment.
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