Considering the amount of resistance to simply using Private Chelsea Manning’s preferred pronoun, it seemed unlikely that she would be able to take the next step in her transition anytime soon. When she announced her name change last summer, the national security leaker said she wanted to begin hormone therapy “as soon as possible.” However, the Defense Department does not provide the treatment (as transgender people are still banned from serving in the military), and Manning can’t be discharged while serving her 35-year prison sentence. Now there may be a solution: The AP reports that in an unprecedented move, the Pentagon is attempting to transfer Manning to a civilian prison to get treatment.
Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved a plan for the Army to pursue a transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to two Pentagon officials. Discussions are in the early stages, and the Pentagon would not confirm that it’s pursuing the move. “No decision to transfer Pvt. Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made, and any such decision will, of course, properly balance the soldier’s medical needs with our obligation to ensure she remains behind bars,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
In an interview that aired Sunday, Hagel said he’s “open” to reviewing the ban on transgender people in the armed forces, though he added that the issue is “a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it.” A recent study estimated that there about 15,000 transgender people serving in the military.
Manning is the first transgender military inmate to request treatment, and transferring anyone in her situation would be extremely unusual. The Army sends an average of 15 to 20 prisoners to civilian prisons each year, but that usually only happens once they’ve been discharged, and not in national security cases. Of course, Manning’s case has always been unique. The military was already accused of cruel and unusual punishment for keeping her in solitary confinement for nearly a year, and it’s been facing the same charge for denying her treatment for a diagnosed gender disorder.