Chelsea Manning is Missing, and Incarcerated Trans Women in Texas Are In Danger [UPDATED]

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In the latest chilling news regarding incarcerated whistleblower and trans woman Chelsea Manning, Chelsea’s legal team says they’re unable to reach her, and have been since at least Oct 4th. She’s missed several planned calls, and family, friends and her legal team have not been able to contact her. They’re describing her as missing, an alarming development after her suicide attempt in July and subsequent sentencing to solitary confinement as punishment (she was sentenced to two weeks, but had one week suspended). As Jezebel says, “Military officials have not issued any statement explaining her whereabouts.”

A few states away from Fort Leavenworth, KS, where Chelsea Manning is being held, another incarcerated trans woman is also in danger. The Texas Observer covered the case of Vanessa Gibson, a trans woman incarcerated in Gatesville, TX who “alleges that TDCJ’s refusal to provide her with gender confirmation surgery violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, because the procedure has been deemed medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.” Gibson’s suit was dismissed. When the Observer article about the case was shared on Facebook, it received several comments from users who appear to be Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers deriding Gibson, encouraging her to self-harm, and threatening violence to her.

A user named Dakota Hoffman posted a comment reading “Let the fucker suffer” on the article about Gibson. Hoffman’s profile identifies the user as a TDCJ corrections officer, and Hoffman’s account shared the story from the Facebook group Texas Correctional Employees – Huntsville. “One to the back of the head,” added another user, Francois Jean-Baptiste, whose account also self-identifies as belonging to a TDCJ corrections officer. In addition to identifying themselves as TDCJ employees in their Facebook profiles, Hoffman and Jean-Baptiste are listed under the job classification “Corrections Officer III” in the Texas Tribune’s database of state employee salaries.

A spokesman for the TCDJ says that this behavior isn’t indicative of a systemic issue with treatment of trans women in Texas prisons — even though at least two other trans women incarcerated in Texas, Taylor Hearne and Passion Star, have petitions or lawsuits in place alleging that correctional officers have deliberately ignored threats of violence and sexual assault against them and retaliated when they objected to being strip-searched in front of men.

“She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to ‘suck dick,’ ‘fight’ or to stop ‘acting gay’ if she does not want to be assaulted,”according to the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, which is representing Star in the lawsuit.

Chelsea Manning is a high-profile prisoner whose case has made headlines for years; most Americans will never know the names of Vanessa Gibson, Taylor Hearne, or Passion Star. But their harrowing treatment at the hands of the prison system continue to show us clearly how dangerous incarceration is for trans women — who, despite OITNB, are almost always housed with men — and how crucial it is for those of us outside the prison to maintain pressure on the criminal justice system for their safety and humanity.

UPDATE: Chelsea Manning’s lawyer reported that she has been located. She was in “disciplinary segregation” (code for solitary confinement).

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1099 articles for us.

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