After a five-day hunger strike, Chelsea Manning's lawyers have told BuzzFeed News that the Army will provide her with gender transition surgery.
If completed, the surgery would be the first of its kind for any transgender inmate at the federal or state level. Manning, a former soldier who is serving a 35-year-sentence for violating the Espionage Act, was recommended for the surgery by her psychologist in April of 2016. Manning made headlines in July when it was reported that she tried to take her own life, and still faces a hearing on September 20 related to the incident.
"I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing," Manning said in a statement. "I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me. But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long."
Though an Army spokesperson declined to confirm that Manning would receive her surgery, Manning's lawyer — the ACLU's Chase Strangio — said the Department of Defense's "In-Service Transition" guidelines apply to her.
The announcement of Manning's surgery has immediately sparked controversy, namely around the idea that tax payers' money will be allocated for her procedure. A similar uproar reverberated through the Internet when it became known that Manning's hormone therapy was also being provided by the military in 2015.
However, the medical community is nearly unanimous that both hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery can be medically necessary for transgender inmates. It's the same logic that is used to treat inmate depression, illness, or surgical needs like a knee replacement.
"An established body of medical research demonstrates the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery as forms of therapeutic treatment for many people diagnosed with GID [gender identity disorder]," the American Medical Association wrote in a resolution supporting health insurance coverage for transgender health care.
As The Daily Beast pointed out, if it's money you're worried about: no need to fear. The cost of gender reassignment surgeries are actually quite low, typically less than a knee replacement.
Manning's uphill battle to get necessary medical care is a reminder of the plight of thousands of other transgender inmates across the United States. Since her incarceration, Manning reports suffering several abuses, including "being forced to strip naked, prolonged solitary confinement, disciplinary charges for such things as having expired toothpaste in her cell, and being denied medical care," according to The Intercept.
Despite no trans inmate ever receiving the surgery, one other high-profile case, a lawsuit in California brought by the Transgender Law Center for Shiloh Quine, reached a settlement. Though the surgery has been agreed to, it won't happen until this fall.
If Manning ends up receiving the surgery, activists are hopeful it will build on the momentum of a slew of prison reforms we've seen this year. Perhaps most relevantly, San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced his plan to house transgender inmates according to their gender identity in September.