Chelsea Manning

Illustration by Max Fleishman

'This is all that I wanted—for them to let me be me.'

Two months after Chelsea Manning attempted to commit suicide and five days after going on a hunger strike, the former Army analyst sent to prison for 35 years for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks has won a major personal victory. According to her lawyer, the Army will allow Manning to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

With the U.S. military’s agreement to give her the surgery, Manning, who will end her hunger strike, would be the first transgender prisoner in this country to receive that treatment.

“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted—for them to let me be me,” Manning said in a statement. “But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long.  Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended back in April 2016. The recommendations for my hair length were back in 2014. In any case, I hope this sets a precedent for the thousands of trans people behind me hoping they will be given the treatment they need.”

Chase Strangio, Manning’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, also wants the government to drop its charges relating to Manning’s suicide attempt.

“This medical care is absolutely vital for Chelsea,” Strangio said in a statement. "It was the government’s refusal to provide her with the necessary care that led her to attempt suicide earlier this year, and it was all the more troubling when she became subject to an investigation and possible punishment in connection with the suicide attempt. We hope that the government recognizes that charging Chelsea with the crime of being denied essential health care is outrageous and drops those charges.”

Manning announced last Friday that she was beginning a hunger strike. “I need help," she said. "I am not getting any. I have asked for help time and time again for six years and through five separate confinement locations. My request has only been ignored, delayed, mocked, given trinkets and lip service by the prison, the military, and this administration.”

But Strangio told BuzzFeed that the military decided that Department of Defense’s instruction for the “in-service transition for transgender service members” would be applied to Manning. Until the procedure, though, Manning must continue to adhere to the male grooming standards at Fort Leavenworth prison.

An Army spokesman told BuzzFeed, “We cannot and will not discuss the medical needs of individuals.”

For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.). 

Correction: The original version of this story mislabeled Manning's sex reassignment surgery. We've updated this story to incorporate the best practices outlined by GLAAD Media's reference guide. 

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