Although jailed US trans soldier Chelsea Manning will receive transition surgery paid for by the military, the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy for trans military members is still in place, says Rob Buchanan.
Trans US military document leaker Chelsea Manning will finally receive the treatment she needs to help with her transition. Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in military prison for leaking highly classified document to the notorious Wikileaks site. There was much controversy over her announcement that she wanted to live as a female, coming as it did after the guilty verdict and unexpectedly long sentence was handed down. Many observers less familiar with the idea of transgender people were cynical about her claims and requests for treatment.
It created a unique scenario because the US military is required to offer medical treatment to its soldiers, but Pentagon policy prohibits transgender people from serving openly in the military. However threats to sue the military by Manning’s lawyers (arguing that the military had an obligation to treat Manning’s “transgender issues”, and that she would not be safe if transferred to a civilian prison for treatment there), combined with pressure from democratic circles, appear to have swayed the decision.
The despicable ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy still applies to our trans brothers and sisters as I wrote about in a previous article about trans man Landon Wilson, who was discharged from his high-level post in the US military after being ‘outed’ as trans.
But this landmark decision from Defence secretary Chuck Hagel highlights Chelsea Manning’s right to receive medical assistance for her transition to the gender her brain and heart identifies with. And while she is going to possibly be incarcerated for much of the rest of her life, the responsibility for providing that assistance lies with the US Military.
Defence Secretary Hagel said the policy on transgender service members should be “continuously reviewed”, but he has not said whether he believes the policy should be overturned. In this light, Chelsea is at the vanguard of trans rights in the US, pushing the envelope and mounting pressure on the US military to acknowledge the estimated 15,000 transgender people actively serving in the US military, and 130,000 trans veterans.
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