Chelsea Manning Surgery Decision Could Set Precedent for Trans Prisoners

PHOTO: In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Chelsea Manning poses for a photo.U.S. Army/AP Photo
In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Chelsea Manning poses for a photo.

While transgender advocacy groups say they applaud the Army’s decision to allow Chelsea Manning to receive gender transition surgery in prison, they also add that more work needs to be done to give transgender inmates the dignity they deserve.

Manning announced in a statement on Tuesday that she is ending her hunger strike after the Army said it will allow her to receive gender transition surgery while she is serving her 35-year sentence at a Kansas military prison. Manning said she is "unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing."

Manning, a transgender woman who was previously known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in 2013 of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks. Last week, Manning went on a hunger strike protesting the military prison's refusal to allow her medical treatment for gender dysphoria, her lawyers announced in a statement.

“I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted -- for them to let me be me,” Manning said in a statement through her ACLU lawyers. “But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed? The surgery was recommended in April 2016. The recommendations for my hair length were back in 2014. In any case, I hope this sets a precedent for the thousands of trans people behind me hoping they will be given the treatment they need.”

Flor Bermudez, the managing attorney and detention project director for the Transgender Law Center, told ABC News today that she hopes other detention centers will follow the example set by the military prison.

"We hope that this is an example for other jurisdictions, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who are currently drafting medical guidelines and transgender-specific placement policies, to issue policies that allow for this medical treatment to be available," Bermudez said. "We have been arguing that it is constitutionally required."

Bermudez said she is glad that the Army chose to allow Manning to receive medical treatment, but added that "this decision was long overdue."

"The Transgender Law Center supports the advocacy that has been done on behalf of Chelsea, because the military has been trying to prosecute her for an attempted suicide, which is specifically a symptom of their own causing," Bermudez said.

Harper Jean Tobin, the policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told ABC News in a statement, "We are heartened that Chelsea Manning's hunger strike is over and that the military has committed to providing the health care she needs. This is consistent with the military's promise to provide necessary health care for all transgender service members, and with the constitutional requirement that the government treat serious medical needs of any person it imprisons."

Tobin reiterated Bermudez's argument that there is still room for improvement, and called on the government to "do better."

"We continue to be concerned that the military will force Manning to comply with male hair length requirements, something it has promised not to do for transgender female soldiers. And the fact that Manning is being charged and threatened with indefinite isolation for attempting suicide is the definition of cruelty. Human dignity has no exceptions, and our government should do better," Tobin said.

Denny Meyer, a spokesperson for the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), told ABC News today that the battle for transgender rights in the military is far from over.

"Transgender service members and veterans have at last been recognized and their service honored as the military has recently allowed people to begin to serve openly. The battle isn't over. It's a small step that this former service member is about to achieve self realization through the medical procedures that all transgender service members are entitled to. We would hope that those who have served their countries honorably would be able to have all the rights and treatments and medical benefits that they are entitled to," Meyer said.

"We are excited that she is getting the medical needs that she needs and she is not being discriminated against because of it," Evan Young, president of TAVA, added. "They have a legal constitutional obligation to not deny them medical needs."

However, even among LGBT advocates within the military community, Manning's actions remain controversial.

Lt. Col. Steve Loomis, president of American Veterans for Equal Rights, the national LGBT veteran's group, said in a statement, "We do not support Chelsea Manning's dissent, and her actions while she was in the military. We have no opinion on her desire to change her gender, that is between her and her doctor."