Pentagon may transfer Chelsea Manning for hormone treatment


Chelsea Manning. (AP)

When convicted national security leaker Chelsea Manning said she wanted a name change — which was approved last month — the U.S. military did not oppose it. When she asked to live as a woman, military doctors diagnosed her with gender dysphoria.

But when she requested the prescribed hormone therapy, she presented officials with a new dilemma: how to treat a transgender soldier without violating U.S. military policy.

Now the Pentagon is trying to transfer her to a civilian prison for gender treatment, defense officials told the Associated Press, since the Defense Department does not offer such treatment and she cannot be discharged while serving out her 35-year sentence — even though transgender people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military.

Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, was convicted of sending classified documents to the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks and sentenced in August.

Some officials have said privately that keeping her in a military prison with no access to hormone treatment could be deemed cruel and unusual, the AP reported Wednesday.

It’s a concern shared by LGBT advocacy groups.

This week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a letter to Georgia’s Department of Corrections demanding that prison officials provide hormone therapy for transgender inmates. The issue arose when it refused to treat Ashley Diamond.

Diamond, a 36-year-old transgender prisoner, started hormone therapy when she was 17. She was convicted of burglary in 2009 and put on probation. In 2012, she was sent to prison after allegedly violating the terms of her probation, SPLC stated.

That’s when the hormone therapy stopped.

She has watched her body change: “Her voice has deepened. Her facial hair has begun to grow and her body fat has redistributed. Her identity is being erased,” the SPLC stated.

“I am only asking for respect,” Diamond was quoted in a SPLC news release. “No one would deny a diabetic prisoner insulin. No one would sentence a person to a gender change. But because I am transgender, I am denied basic medical care and forced to change gender. Nobody should be sentenced to torture like this.”

SPLC’s letter to the Department of Corrections states in part:

GDC’s continued refusal to provide necessary medical treatment violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, widely accepted protocol on health care standards in correctional settings, the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia, and GDC’s own internal policies concerning the treatment of transgender people. … Unless you promptly provide Ms. Diamond with appropriate medical and mental health care relating to her transgender status by May 30 … SPLC will commence legal action to remedy this constitutional violation.

Georgia’s Department of Corrections declined comment on a story by the Huffington Post. A representative told reporters the department does not comment on pending litigation.

But Diamond’s case is not out of the ordinary. The Huffington Post reported that judges have routinely agreed with these inmates, citing the “cruel and unusual” clause of the Eighth Amendment as a justification for striking down bans on hormone therapy.

“The courts understand that this is a serious medical need,” Chase Strangio, an attorney for American Civil Liberties Union, told the Huffington Post. He said people who abruptly stop hormone therapy report feeling “hot flashes, dizziness, anxiety, suicidality, desire to engage in a self-castration and other things that can have very dire physical consequences.”

But Manning’s case is different.

The Army typically transfers a prisoner to federal prison only after all military appeals have been used and he or she has been discharged from service, the AP reported. Cases involving national security are not normally approved for transfer to federal prisons.

In any case, the discussion about Manning’s possible transfer is just beginning, officials told the AP.

“No decision to transfer Private Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made, and any such decision will, of course, properly balance the soldier’s medical needs with our obligation to ensure she remains behind bars,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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