Martin Pengelly in New York
Monday 8 December 2014
Chelsea Manning, the soldier jailed for her part in the Wikileaks affair, has revealed that she was transgender “in secret” while serving in the US army.
At the time of her May 2010 arrest over the leaking military and diplomatic documents, Manning was known as Bradley. Until now, very little has been known about Manning’s history of gender identity, despite her very public legal battle with the US military over her civil rights – the army private won the right to change her name, and her push for medical treatment while in prison has become something of a cause célèbre for transgender rights in the military and even worldwide.
Writing for the Guardian from military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in a passionate essay about “largely invisible” discrimination against transgender people, Manning declares: “We’re banned from serving our country in the armed services unless we serve as trans people in secret, as I did.”
In August 2013, Manning was jailed for 35 years, for passing files to Wikileaks. The following day, Manning said she would from then on be known as Chelsea. In April 2014, a Kansas judge formally granted her request to change her name.
In Manning’s case, gender dysphoria refers to an innate sense of being female though her sex at birth was male. Treatment includes psychotherapy, hormone therapy and surgery to change her primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.
A hearing in the case, in which Manning is also seeking to be allowed to grow her hair long and use cosmetics, is scheduled for January.
Last week, in a case heralded by the American Civil Liberties Union, the US army “fully recognised” the new names of two transgender veterans from New Jersey. The decision cleared a path for the two, who were named only as Jennifer and Nicolas, to receive veterans’ benefits.
Beginning her piece for the Guardian, Manning quotes Martin Luther King – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” – and writes: “I am a young trans woman. And I can attest to the ‘long’ part, but I hope the bend toward justice will soon become more pronounced.”