Military prison authorities in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas declared Thursday they will deny WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning hormone therapy and other care related to gender transitioning, while forcing her to serve in a men's prison, sparking outrage at what many are calling a gross violation of her human rights and prompting David Coombs, Manning's lawyer, to vow a lawsuit.
"The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder," Ft. Leavenworth spokeswoman Kimberly Lewis told Courthouse News Service.
"All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such, with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science non-commissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement," Lewis stated, despite the fact that Manning was issued a dishonorable discharge from the Army as part of her sentence.
The Army's declaration immediately followed Manning's Thursday statement, in which she explicitly requested hormone therapy:
I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).
The military's position flouts broad medical and legal agreement that withholding treatment for transgender and gender nonconforming people violates their medical rights.
"The position taken by the Army has been a position taken by other corrections agencies at the state and federal level and has been found by all leading medical and mental health associations, including the national commission on correctional healthcare, as well as the majority of federal courts who have discussed this issue to be both inconsistent with medical recommendations and unconstitutional under the 8th amendment," declared Chase Strangio, Staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, on Democracy Now!.
Yet, a Fort Leavenworth public affairs official, reached by phone by Common Dreams, refused to answer questions about why care is being denied given this consensus, and simply repeated, "The Army does not allow hormone therapy in the prison system." The official confirmed that Manning arrived at the prison yesterday.
Another public affairs official told Common Dreams "No one at Fort Leavenworth can speak to medical and mental health issues," then hung up the phone following further questions.
Manning's announcement, following her crushing sentence to 35 years in prison for blowing the whistle on U.S. war crimes, has drawn broader attention to the plight of transgender and gender nonconforming people in U.S. prisons that extends far beyond lack of access to healthcare.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project outlined some of these abuses in the statement released Thursday:
Not only do transgender people in prison have problems accessing healthcare, but they experience a heightened level of gender policing. The clothing they wear, their hairstyles and grooming practices, their bodies, mannerisms and identities are scrutinized and controlled by the state. Any deviance from norms can lead to violence at the hands of corrections officers or other people who are incarcerated. Legal “protections” are hard to access as there is little accountability on the inside.
Transgender activist and writer Janet Mock released a statement Thursday outlining the vital importance of public support campaigns for incarcerated transgender and gender nonconforming people, citing the case of incarcerated African-American transgender woman Cece McDonald, who was able to win limited gains with the help of support from the outside.
Mock declared, "We are all, whether we’ve been charged with a crime or not, whether we are popular or unpopular, whether we are loved or unloved, whether we are understood or stigmatized, deserve safe, quality, knowledgeable healthcare."