Chelsea Manning will undergo gender transition surgery, lawyer says

Updated 6:23 PM EDT, Wed September 14, 2016
FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. A military prison psychologist is refusing to recommend that Manning's gender be officially changed to female on her Army employee-benefits file. Lawyers for the transgender solider imprisoned for leaking classified information made the assertion in a federal court filing Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Washington. (U.S. Army via AP, File)
U.S, Army/AP
FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. A military prison psychologist is refusing to recommend that Manning's gender be officially changed to female on her Army employee-benefits file. Lawyers for the transgender solider imprisoned for leaking classified information made the assertion in a federal court filing Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Washington. (U.S. Army via AP, File)
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Story highlights

Chelsea Manning could become the first prisoner to receive gender transition surgery

Manning tells lawyers she expects to meet with doctors soon to start preparations

(CNN) —  

Imprisoned former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning has learned that she will receive gender transition surgery, her lawyer told CNN, in what could make her the first US prison inmate to undergo such a procedure.

Manning, a transgender woman, was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

The former US Army soldier is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male Army prison in eastern Kansas, despite her request to transfer to a civilian prison. Her lawyers say she has been denied medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, a condition in which there is a conflict between a person’s physical sex and the gender he or she identifies with.

The government’s refusal to treat her for her condition led to a suicide attempt in July, her lawyers said.

Manning began a hunger strike on September 9 to demand treatment and access to medically prescribed recommendations for her condition. It ended on Tuesday when she received word that the military will provide treatment for her gender dysphoria, beginning with surgery recommended by her psychologist, according to the ACLU, which is representing Manning.

The Army declined to confirm the claim, saying “We cannot and will not discuss the medical needs of individuals.”

A new Department of Defense policy, which takes effect in October, lays out processes under which service members may transition. Under the policy, “service members with a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary will be provided medical care and treatment for the diagnosed medical condition.” It is not clear if or how the policy applies to inmates like Manning.

’This is all that I wanted’

Manning told her lawyers that she expects “to meet with a team of doctors in the next week or two to move the process forward to prepare for surgery,” ACLU attorney Chase Strangio said in an email.

No “concrete timeline was given,” he said.

The development could make Manning the first transgender person to receive gender affirming surgical treatment in any US prison, military, state or federal, the ACLU said.

Manning began publicly identifying as a woman in August 2013, the day after her sentencing. She filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the Department of Defense so she could grow out her hair, use cosmetics and receive hormone treatment “in order to express her female gender.”

Last year, the Army agreed to provide her with hormone therapy but would not allow her to groom as a woman.

“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 through the ACLU.

“But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended 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.”

’Absolutely vital care’

Manning’s lawyer said she still faces charges related to her suicide attempt. Her hearing will be held on September 20, he said in a tweet.

“This is a monumental day for Chelsea, who can now enjoy some peace knowing that critically needed medical care is forthcoming. This medical care is absolutely vital for Chelsea as it is for so many transgender people — in and out of prison — who are systemically denied treatment solely because they are transgender,” he said in a statement.

“Thankfully the government has recognized its constitutional obligation to provide Chelsea with the medical care that she needs and we hope that they will act without delay to ensure that her suffering does not needlessly continue.”