Convicted leaker Bradley Manning changes legal name to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning

A Kansas judge ruled that Bradley Manning, who is serving 35 years in prison for turning over classified files to WikiLeaks, will be able to change his name to Chelsea. (Reuters)

An Army soldier convicted of leaking classified military and diplomatic records persuaded a Kansas judge Wednesday to legally change her name from Bradley Manning to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.

The judicial order in Leavenworth County District Court could be a key step in the transgender soldier’s quest to get the military to devise a medical treatment plan commonly available to civilians diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

The Department of Defense bans transgender people from serving and routinely discharges service members who start hormone therapy. But Manning’s case is forcing the Pentagon to grapple with complex legal and personnel questions because the soldier is serving a 35-year sentence in an Army prison.

In a statement attributed to Manning posted on the Chelsea Manning Support Network’s Web site, the soldier says she has requested that the military provide her with “a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care” for transgender individuals. Such plans can range from hormone therapy to sex-change operations. Manning said she underwent a medical evaluation last year but has not heard whether the Army will support the type of treatment plan she seeks.

“I am optimistic that things can — and certainly will — change for the better,” the statement says. “If I am successful in obtaining access to trans healthcare, it will not only be something I have wanted for a long time myself, but it will also open the door for many people, both inside and outside the military, to request the right to live more open, fulfilled lives.”

Army spokesman George Wright said he could not comment on Manning’s medical treatment plan. He said that Army records will henceforth refer to Manning by her new legal name but that the military continues to regard the soldier as a male.

“This court action is only a name change and will have no bearing on his current status other than the name change in his records,” Wright said in an e-mail.

A spokesman at Fort Leavenworth, where Manning is serving his sentence, added: “He’s still ‘inmate’ Manning here. His records will reflect the new first name. That’s it.”

Manning is not seeking to be transferred from the all-male military penitentiary.

The written order was handed down by the chief judge of Leavenworth County District Court, David J. King. His ruling notes that no one objected to Manning’s name-change request. The judge said he determined that the change would not be prejudicial to anyone and found no evidence that it was being sought to deceive or defraud. The order demands that Manning be issued an amended birth certificate reflecting the new name, but it does not include pronouns or otherwise address gender.

Military health-care specialists diagnosed Manning with gender identity disorder. That determination typically enables transgender individuals to get new forms of state and federal identification reflecting the gender with which they identify.

In January, a federal appeals court in Boston upheld a ruling by a judge who granted a murder convict’s request to have the prison system pay for her sex-change operation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit concluded that withholding the treatment would violate a constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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