Military Court Rules Army Can’t Misgender Chelsea Manning Anymore
Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to the “Wikileaks” project. She was convicted in 2013 under charges of violating the Espionage Act. However, while in prison in Kansas, she’s fighting against the U.S. Military on a different issue–her status as a trans woman. This week, a military court granted her a pretty notable win–the U.S. Army can no longer refer to her as a man, or with male pronouns.
Manning announced her transition in a statement made shortly after her sentencing. Since then, she’s had to fight every step of the way against the U.S. Army and government. She sued the federal government to gain access for hormone treatments to treat her gender identity disorder. She argued that while she was in the government’s custody, she had every right to appropriate medical care.
Manning had legally changed her first name to Chelsea in January 2014, but she’s had a particularly hard time getting Army documents to reflect that. In court filings, for example, the government has referred to Manning by her birth name, Bradley, and have continued to use masculine pronouns in court filings. Government lawyers said in one filing “unless directed otherwise by this honourable court, the government intends to refer to [Manning] using masculine pronouns.”
Manning, however, obviously took issue with that clear disregard for her status as a trans woman. She wrote in a December 2014 letter about her struggles, saying:
I filed a petition to change my name in January of this year. Even with some assistance from counsel, the petition took nearly four months to draft and file before I ever made it to a hearing before the court. The hearing and filings were public, and I had to pay fees for filing and posting a legal notice in a local newspaper costing me nearly $500. And, despite making it clear that I identify as female, and having two military psychiatrists recommend support for my transition, legally changing my name has no effect on the “legal” gender status that the government imposes upon me.
However, Manning took that injustice to court, and won. According to the court order that the United States Army Criminal Court of Appeals released, she’ll have to be referred to in either neutral or feminine terms. However, the court order also does say that any past documents will not be amended.
This is a good step for the U.S. Military, given that trans individuals still aren’t allowed in its ranks. However, that may be changing at some point in the relatively near future. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James gave an interview in December, and according to USA Today:
‘Times change,’ she told Capital Download, saying the policy ‘is likely to come under review in the next year or so.’ Asked whether dropping the ban would affect military readiness, she replied: ‘From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve.’
The court’s recognition that Chelsea Manning ought to be referred to by the correct pronouns is certainly a small victory. But it is a victory all the same, and may be indicative of changes to come.