The Army private who leaked a trove of classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks is scheduled to ask a Kansas judge next month for a legal name change — the first step in her quest to be formally recognized as a woman.
After being tried and sentenced last summer for the disclosures, the soldier previously known as Bradley Manning came out as transgender and said she wanted to be known as Chelsea.
The case is being closely watched by defense officials and sexual minority activists because it has the potential to set precedent for the status of transgender people in the military. Although gay men and lesbians have been allowed to serve openly since 2011, transgender people are still banned from the military.
A district court judge in Leavenworth County, where Manning is being held at an Army prison for men, is scheduled to hold a hearing on the petition on April 23, according to a legal notice published this week in the local newspaper, the Leavenworth Times.
George Marcec, a spokesman for Fort Leavenworth, the Army garrison where Manning is being held, said Thursday that a name change, if granted, would have no immediate “ramifications” on Manning’s detention status. Male soldiers are typically incarcerated at Army garrisons, while women are held at civilian federal prisons.
As far as prison officials are concerned, Marcec said, “this isn’t a gender thing, just him changing his name.”
Military health specialists diagnosed gender identity disorder in Manning. After her conviction, she said she wanted to undergo hormone replacement therapy, a step many transgender people take in an effort to make their bodies more closely reflect their gender.
The Pvt. Manning Support Network, a group that has worked on Manning’s behalf, said in a statement on its Web site this week that Manning is not interested in having a surgical procedure.
“Chelsea does not, at this time, wish to undergo any surgeries or be transferred to a different prison,” the statement said. “She reports that she has made friends at Fort Leavenworth and only wishes to be able to live as herself.”
Manning served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and has testified that she decided to leak classified information to expose what she viewed as war crimes. An Army judge sentenced her to 35 years in prison for one of the biggest leaks of classified information in history, but did not find her guilty of the most serious charge: aiding the enemy.
Marcec said he did not know whether Manning would be allowed to attend the court hearing. A court administrator said that petitioners in civil cases normally appear in person, but that a judge could potentially waive the requirement under certain circumstances.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.