WASHINGTON — Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years for leaking classified military and diplomatic materials to WikiLeaks, announced plans Thursday to live as a woman while confined in the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth.
“As I transition into this new phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” Manning said in a letter released on the NBC “Today” show. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”
Testimony in Manning’s eight-week court martial, which ended with sentencing Wednesday at Ft. Meade, Md., showed that the 25-year-old former junior intelligence analyst in Iraq had suffered for years with a “gender identity disorder.”
According to the testimony, Manning and a boyfriend broke up in late 2009 and early 2010. The event proved so traumatic, lawyers said, that Manning soon began downloading hundreds of thousands of classified files and transmitting them to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which later posted them on the Internet.
In April 2010, Manning sent an email to a sergeant saying, “This is my problem. I have had signs of it for a very long time,” and attached a personal photograph wearing dark lipstick and a blond wig. Manning was arrested in May 2010 and ultimately convicted of espionage, fraud and theft.
In the letter released Thursday, Manning said “given the way that I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”
George Marcec, a spokesman at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., which houses about 435 prisoners, said hormone therapy would not be available there.
“The Army doesn’t provide sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy,” he said.
Marcec said that if doctors had diagnosed Manning with a “gender identity disorder” years earlier, the soldier would have been “chaptered out” of the Army.
At Leavenworth, Marcec said, “all the inmates are treated the same when they get here.”
The prison houses male inmates only and all dress alike, so Manning will not have a special arrangement. Female military prisoners, he said, are confined within the federal Bureau of Prisons system.
Marcec added that Manning will be addressed as Bradley, not Chelsea, unless a court approves a legal name change. “The Army doesn’t let you be called by whatever you want to be called,” he said.
Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, told the “Today” show that he would consider filing legal action to get hormone therapy for his client. He added that Manning had wanted to make this statement earlier but was urged by the defense team to wait until the trial was over.
Transgender groups and mental health experts generally welcomed Manning’s decision to live as a woman.
“As she begins her jail term, it may help to shine the spotlight on the plight of transgender people in prison,” said the Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
At Hunter College in New York, psychology professor Jeffrey Parsons said some civilian prison authorities have had experience with inmates seeking hormone therapy or other forms of a gender change. Parsons suggested that Manning might seek a transfer to another prison.
“She most likely will need to be placed with a female prison population because she identifies as a female,” Parsons said.
But Marcec said “inmates can’t volunteer” for a transfer and that the Secretary of the Army would have to approve it anyway.
In the letter, Manning asked the public to begin using Chelsea as “my new name and use the feminine pronoun, except in official mail to the confinement facility.”
Manning added, “I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.
“Thank you, Chelsea E. Manning.”