Bradley Manning's choice to be Chelsea opens a minefield for military minders

Bradley Manning's choice to be Chelsea opens a minefield for military minders

He came out of court male and says he's going to prison female – bye-bye Bradley Manning; hello Chelsea.

The convicted WikiLeaks leaker's stunning announcement on Thursday that he planned to undergo hormone therapy and wanted to be recognised as a woman, to be addressed as such, raises myriad questions to which there are few answers.

For starters, that pronoun – The Guardian fell into line immediately, even substituting a bracketed "she" and "her" when it quoted Manning's lawyer David Coombs who continued to refer to his client as "he" and "him" during TV appearances.

Not so The New York Times. The newspaper might be located on Broadway but Manning was still "he" and "him".

US Army Private  Bradley Manning, in uniform for his court martial, and at right  in wig and make-up. He has   asked to be considered a woman  and requested hormone therapy.  "I am Chelsea Manning, I am a female," he said in a statement.

US Army Private Bradley Manning, in uniform for his court martial, and at right in wig and make-up. He has asked to be considered a woman and requested hormone therapy. "I am Chelsea Manning, I am a female," he said in a statement.

Photo: AFP

On Wednesday Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking a mountain of classified military and diplomatic documents to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy organisation, after failing to engage the interest of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

And that raises another question about another mountain. Coombs was doing all the talking for Manning on Thursday but had little to say about the mountain Manning will have to climb in campaigning for his rights as the country's most severely punished leaker, at the same time as he becomes a poster pin-up . . . er, girl for the transgender lobby.

In a statement, Manning said: "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. I hope that you will support me in this transition.

"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me."

One might have thought that Manning would have more luck extracting a pardon from the White House. But given Team Obama's irritation with leakers and its obsession with making Manning's imprisonment a teaching moment for other would-be leakers, Manning might have more luck in the twists and turns of the law as it's written in the US.

He'll be doing time at the Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, where officials were quick to put the kybosh on what they seem to think is this transgender nonsense. Soldiers are blokes – got it?

The official line was that there would be no transgender treatment beyond psychiatric support. "Unconstitutional," cried the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender lobby.

"All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioural science non-commissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement," prison spokeswoman Kimberley Lewis told Courthouse News.

She added: "The US Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder."

But, but, but . . . "It's illegal, it's unconstitutional," Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, told reporters. "This is the United States. We do not deny medical treatment to prisoners.

"It's fairly settled law under the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. The medical community is now unified that transition-related care is legitimate medical care that can successfully treat a serious underlying condition."

The American Civil Liberties Union also took up the cudgel for Manning. A lawyer with the its LBGT project, Chase Strangio, told The Guardian that because Manning had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria he was entitled to receive hormone therapy.

"The official policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and most state agencies is to provide medically necessary care for the treatment of gender dysphoria, and courts have consistently found that denying such care to prisoners based on blanket exclusions violates the 8th Amendment." Dysphoria what?

Replacing the term "gender identity disorder," the American Psychiatric Association opted for "gender dysphoria" just three months ago.

Sorting out Manning's legal rights will probably be a bigger enterprise than the 10-week court martial he has just endured.

He'll find comfort in the United Nations handbook on prisoners, which says that "all denied liberty should be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person . . . sexual orientation and gender identity are integral to each person's dignity."

And lawyers will have a field day with the policy contradiction between the US Army and the Veterans' Health Administration, the bureaucracy that tries to fix broken soldiers on their return from battle.

According to the army's standards of medical fitness, those with "personality, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias or factitious disorders," are barred from signing up.

"These conditions render the individual administratively unfit rather than unfit because of physical illness or medical disability."

The VA seems to disagree. In a directive issued in February it said: "VA provides healthcare for transgender patients, including those who present at various points of their transition from on gender to the next. This applies to all veterans who are enrolled in the VA's healthcare system or are otherwise eligible for VA care, including those who have had sex reassignment surgery outside of VHA, those who might be considering such surgical intervention, and those who do not wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but self-identify as transgender."

During the Manning trial, Judge Colonel Denise Lind was presented with a picture of himself that Manning had emailed to a supervisor – he is wearing a blond wig and red lipstick. In the subject line he wrote: "My problem".

The court was told Manning was being treated for "gender identity disorder," with a psychiatrist explaining that dealing with such a diagnosis in a combat zone at the same time as serving in a military that did not accept gays in the ranks would have been the cause of immense pressure for Manning.

"You put him in this environment, this kind of hypermasculine environment, if you will, and with no support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least," Captain Michael Worsley, a clinical psychologist treating Manning, told the court. "It would have been incredible."

Paul McGeough

Paul McGeough is chief foreign correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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