feature image via torbakhopper
On September 9th, incarcerated people around the US began the largest organized political action by prisoners in US history with a general work strike. Chelsea Manning, imprisoned for 35 years by the US military for violating the Espionage Act by leaking military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, began a hunger strike. She shared that her suicide attempt earlier this year was driven by lack of treatment for her gender dysphoria, and she declared a hunger strike until she received the medical treatment she was due.
“Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison—or by anyone within the U.S. government. I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect—that I once actually believed would be provided for—afforded to any living human being.”
“I do not believe that this should be dependent on any arbitrary factors—whether you are cisgender or transgender; service member or civilian, citizen or non-citizen. In response to virtually every request, I have been granted limited, if any, dignity and respect—just more pain and anguish.”
“I am no longer asking. Now, I am demanding. As of 12:01 am Central Daylight Time on September 9, 2016, and until I am given minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity, I shall—refuse to voluntarily cut or shorten my hair in any way; consume any food or drink voluntarily, except for water and currently prescribed medications; and comply with all rules, regulations, laws, and orders that are not related to the two things I have mentioned.”
Now, Manning’s hunger strike has ended; Army officials have reportedly told Manning that she can receive gender affirmation surgery, and her lawyers say she was “shown a treatment plan that included information about surgery and the medical team necessary to move forward with that surgery.” She will also be allowed to wear her hair long, as is her preference, although allegedly she will be forced to keep cutting it until her gender affirmations surgery, and can only wear it long afterwards. All of this information is only coming through Manning’s lawyers, as the army has refused to confirm or comment directly on the decision.
Manning’s statement was of relief, and also frustration at the lengths she was forced to go to to obtain medical 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. 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.”
Although the military’s communication with Manning is good news, there are still concerns and challenges ahead. It’s not clear how quickly the army will move on Manning’s treatment plan; there’s no way to know when her surgery might actually occur, and as Manning told Vice, “Until then, I must live with the humiliation and pain.” As Vice points out, transgender inmate Shiloh Quine was granted a lawsuit settlement involving the state of California paying for her gender confirmation surgery over a year ago; she’s still waiting on it.
Manning also still faces potential charges related to her recent suicide attempt; she’s scheduled for a hearing on Sept. 20 to discuss whether her attempting suicide should be classified as “misconduct,” for which she would be punished, with the possibility of solitary confinement. Even with the possibility of appropriate medical treatment on the horizon, Chelsea Manning still faces harmful and dehumanizing treatment as an incarcerated person.
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) September 13, 2016
Although questions still remain about when and how Manning’s gender affirmation surgery will proceed, this decision by the military remains a very important precedent. No US prison inmate has ever received gender affirmation surgery while incarcerated; Flor Bermudez of the Transgender Law Center told ABC that she hopes other prisons will become more likely to grant trans prisoners the same access to treatment.
“We hope that this is an example for other jurisdictions, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who are currently drafting medical guidelines and transgender-specific placement policies, to issue policies that allow for this medical treatment to be available,” Bermudez said. “We have been arguing that it is constitutionally required…. The Transgender Law Center supports the advocacy that has been done on behalf of Chelsea, because the military has been trying to prosecute her for an attempted suicide, which is specifically a symptom of their own causing,” Bermudez said.
Chelsea Manning’s legal team is continuing to pursue the issue of Manning being allowed to wear her hair the way she prefers, and hope that “all charges related to her suicide attempt and the investigation that followed are dropped.” You can sign a petition asking that Manning not face charges related to her suicide attempt here.