Since its inception, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) has supported war resisters of all stripes. Our organizing theory from the beginning was based on the concept of withdrawal of consent - consent to participate in the war, consent to remain silent. For this reason, we have always defended the actions of Private Chelsea Manning.
In an era of war and militarism that is shrouded in secrecy, Manning shed light on information that was crucial to public knowledge and understanding of U.S. foreign policy. These actions are being carried out in our name, and we have the right to know.
IVAW was also founded on the concept of speaking truth to power. Manning discovered a way to do that rapidly and at so large a scale it couldn’t be ignored. The disproportionate nature of Manning’s sentence, when compared with the sentences of those who shared classified information for financial gain, speaks to the power of the transparency created by her actions. This is something that IVAW and its members, as well as veteran anti-war activists that came before us, have been striving to do for years.
On Thursday, August 22, Chelsea Manning announced that she will be living the rest of her life as a woman, using female pronouns and will no longer be using the name assigned to her at birth. IVAW continues to stand behind Chelsea Manning, not in spite of her announcement, but in complete support and celebration of it.
As is often the case when trans* people enter the public eye, there was wide speculation about Manning’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Despite the small, private statements, there was little information to be gleaned on this topic, and since arrest, Manning was denied the agency to openly self-define. This ambiguity led many journalists and commentators to default to an assumption of male gender identity, while others, like the San Francisco chapter of IVAW, took a more sensitive approach to the matter and avoided gendered pronouns and altogether.
But this is not the only thing that prevents trans* people from being open about their identity in any environment, especially a military environment, and therefore may not be the only reason Manning waiting until yesterday to make her coming out announcement.
Trans* people are twice as likely to be recruited into the military, according to a recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School's LGBTQ Policy Journal. As an organization that sees the recruitment of vulnerable populations as a serious issue in this country, we find this statistic of incredible interest. Trans* people are certainly among the most vulnerable of populations, as multiple studies have found them to be at significantly increased risk of sexual and physical assault, homelessness, joblessness, and familial rejection. Some of these issues are faced by veterans as a general population, but are amplified for trans* veterans. Transgender veterans are 36% more likely to be fired for bias, and 54% more likely to not be hired at the outset than cisgender veterans. Most alarmingly, trans* veterans are twenty (20) times more likely than other veterans to die by suicide.
IVAW has a Resolution Regarding the Department of Defense’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy which was ratified by a member vote in 2009. That resolution states, “since its inception Iraq Veterans Against the War has called for full benefits to returning service members, benefits which are often denied to LGBT service members discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.” Often, the LGBT abbreviation simply addresses members who are LGB and fails to address the “T”. The repeal of DADT was no exception. It provided absolutely no benefit to trans* people in the military who are still not permitted to serve openly, and who are frequently diagnosed as having a disorder for which they are then discharged. This discharge often results in a loss of earned benefits, just as Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual service members previously experienced prior to the repeal of DADT.
Following their discharge, many trans* veterans find that they are unable to access their healthcare and educational benefits due to their discharge status, or due to systemic discrimination within veteran systems on the basis of gender identity. While the Veterans Administration has begun making changes to policies regarding healthcare access for trans* veterans, more changes are needed, and oftentimes newer policies are not enforced. Additionally, trans* veterans may have difficulties obtaining employment within the civilian sector due to the combined lack of federal employment protections for LGBT people, and an ongoing Department of Defense Policy that does not permit trans* veterans to change their name on discharge documents. This policy places trans* veterans in a position of having to publicly disclose personal health information to obtain healthcare, education, veterans’ hiring preference, and other earned benefits to which they are entitled.
For these reasons, and out of respect for the self-determination of all people, IVAW is firmly committed to ensuring that from here on, our publications feature only Chelsea Manning’s preferred name and pronouns. While we understand that people sometimes have difficulty remembering major changes in a person’s identity when those changes first occur, we will firmly, respectfully and consistently remind our members of Chelsea Manning’s preferences.
As an incarcerated individual, Chelsea Manning will face a whole new set of challenges that trans* people face in prison on a regular basis. This is further complicated due to the fact that Manning will be held in a military institution. Trans women in prison struggle to have their medical needs met and to have them taken seriously. Thanks to leaders like CeCe McDonald, some victories have been achieved, enabling a small number of trans women in prison to access medical care that has been previously denied. In a military institution, Manning will not even be eligible for such medical care. Chelsea Manning will instead be forced to live in a men’s prison, without access to hormones or other treatments that are medically necessary for many trans* people’s bodies.
It is not uncommon for trans* women to be held in men’s prisons. This heightens their risk of sexual and physical assault such that they are commonly forced to spend their entire sentence in solitary confinement “for their own safety”. Chelsea Manning has already been subjected to solitary confinement, extreme humiliation, “enhanced interrogation” and other tactics that have since been named as torture. Enough is Enough. To that end, we encourage an ongoing letter writing campaign to Chelsea while she is incarcerated. Due to government policies, official correspondence must be addressed to:
Bradley E. Manning
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Ft Leavenworth KS 66027
While we continue to demand that Chelsea Manning be pardoned and while we attempt to remain hopeful through the appeal, we will also continue to support her efforts to obtain appropriate medical treatment while incarcerated, and we demand that she is able to spend her time in prison free from additional forms of torture.
IVAW is an organization whose mission is to work to build a service-member and veteran led movement that ends militarism by transforming ourselves, military culture and American society. We recognize that militarism is enforced through systemic oppression that disproportionately affects specific marginalized populations. As such, we stand by Chelsea Manning and all those who are forced or coerced into living in secrecy and fear in a military environment and we will continue to stand by military and government whistleblowers and war resisters of all kinds.