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Will Manning case harm effort to lift trans military ban?

Convicted soldier: ‘I am Chelsea Manning. I am female’

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(Photo by Diane Perlman)

(Photo by Diane Perlman)

One day after a military judge sentenced then-U.S. Army private Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, the 25-year-old soldier released a statement through her attorney coming out as transgender.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” Manning said. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”

Manning’s dramatic announcement was first disclosed on NBC’s “The Today Show” early Thursday morning by her lead defense attorney, David Coombs, who said Chelsea Manning will request from prison authorities permission to undergo hormone therapy.

If prison officials don’t agree to Manning’s request, “then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so,” Coombs said.

Manning’s sentencing and declaration that she is a transgender woman follows a protracted trial that transgender activists fear has set back their quest to persuade the military to lift its ban on transgender service members.

The sentence came one week after Manning’s attorneys argued that Manning’s decision to leak more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents along with video footage of battlefield scenes was due, in part, to the stress Manning was experiencing over her gender identity.

Earlier in the trial, the defense disclosed that Manning – who initially identified as a gay man – had been quietly struggling over whether she was a transgender woman.

Last week, defense attorneys released a photo of Manning dressed as a woman with a blond wig. Her attorney presented as a witness a military therapist who testified that Manning emailed him the photo along with a letter describing her gender identity as a “problem.”

“You put him in that kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least,” the Associated Press quoted the therapist, Capt. Michael Worsley, as saying in his testimony last week at the sentencing phase of Manning’s court martial. “It would have been incredible.”

Two prominent transgender activists who have served in the military before transitioning from male to female told the Washington Blade — just before Manning disclosed she’s transgender — that a large number of closeted transgender service members currently are performing their duties flawlessly while experiencing some of the same pressures related to their gender identity that Manning might have experienced.

The future of transgender military service

“Our view is Manning’s gender identity — no matter what it is — does not justify what he did,” Brynn Tannehill, a transgender woman and former Lt. Commander in the Navy, told the Blade prior to Manning’s Thursday announcement. She currently serves as spokesperson for the Trans Chapter of SPART*A, a group representing mostly active duty LGBT service members.

“If Bradley Manning is transgender and if he struggles over this, we can empathize over that,” Tannehill told the Blade in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “But we do not believe it should excuse what he did.”

Tannehill added, “We know many trans military people with highly distinguished careers. So the argument that being transgender made him do this is patently false.”

Tannehill and transgender advocate Autumn Sandeen, who transitioned from male to female after retiring from the Navy, said the negative publicity surrounding Manning’s personal struggle with her gender identity is overshadowing the overwhelming majority of service members grappling with their gender identity who quietly do their jobs well.

The two noted that as many as 120 closeted transgender service members affiliated with the SPART*A group can’t come out as positive role models because they would be subject to discharge under a military regulation that strictly prohibits “transsexualism” and “gender transformation” within the military.

“In my last four years in the Navy I was grappling with gender identity and yet I did my job,” said Sandeen, who lives in San Diego.

Among other things, Sandeen said she had access to classified information while serving on a ship. She says she and other transgender people she knows had similar access to classified information never mishandled or released such information.

“[Manning] will be used as an example of why transgender people shouldn’t serve in the military,” she said.

Sandeen said the transgender people she knows, both civilians and military members, are divided over whether what Manning did was good or bad for the country, just as other Americans are divided over the issue.

Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks

In July Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge filed against her. But the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, found her guilty of nearly all of the other charges filed against her, including six counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act.

Manning’s supporters say the information she leaked to the whistleblower group Wikileaks shined a spotlight on flawed U.S. policies and military practices in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that would not otherwise have been brought to the attention of the American public.

Government prosecutors argued that Manning’s actions placed U.S. troops in jeopardy by revealing classified information that terrorists and other enemies could use against U.S. military and civil personnel stationed overseas.

“Personally, if Manning comes out as transgender I will be someone who owns him, but owns him as a person who did wrong,” Sandeen told the Blade the day prior to Manning’s announcement that she was transitioning. “We have to take the good with the bad.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the Blade on Thursday following Manning’s announcement that she’s a transgender woman that the Manning case was a “temporary blip” in the ongoing efforts to obtain equal rights for transgender people.

“In the long run, this won’t have an impact on the LGBT rights movement,” Mara said. “With thousands of transgender people coming out, we are moving ahead on the education front concerning transgender equality.”

Keisling criticized a statement released by the Army on Thursday that Manning most likely would not be allowed to obtain hormone treatment to facilitate her gender transition while serving time in an Army prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“That’s not going to be the final word,” she said. “You can’t deny health care to prisoners. That’s unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.”

Keisling was referring to the prevailing views of the medical and mental health professions, including the American Medical Association, that being transgender is a medical condition that requires various means of treatment, including hormone therapy, to facilitate a healthy transition from one gender to another.

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Delaware

Delaware’s Sussex Pride launches free statewide HIV, STI testing

Special program honors National HIV Testing Day on June 27

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Each year on June 27, people across the United States are encouraged to get tested for HIV. This year for Delawareans, it’s easier than ever.

Sussex Pride has partnered with STDCheck to offer free HIV and syphilis testing everywhere in Delaware. There are more than 20 locations across the state, making it simple to find a testing center.  

David Mariner, executive director of Sussex Pride, told the Blade, “We are thrilled with this new partnership with STDcheck. The ultimate goal is to empower individuals with knowledge about their HIV status, provide necessary support, and facilitate early intervention to improve health outcomes in our state.”

Finding a testing center, getting tested, and getting results is simple. Start by finding a lab near you using this link (https://www.stdcheck.com/std-test-center.php). Then call STDcheck at 800-456-2323 and request a free Sussex Pride HIV and/or syphilis test. Make sure to mention Sussex Pride in the call to get the test for free. Then schedule a time and get tested. 

“If you are HIV positive, the sooner you know, the better,” Mariner added. “Early and sustained treatment can help you live a long and healthy life. It can also help protect others.”

This special program is in honor of National HIV Testing Day, created in 1995 to highlight the lifesaving impact of HIV testing. HIV has historically had a disproportionate effect on the LGBTQ community. According to the CDC, 70% of all new cases of HIV in 2021 were among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.

The CDC’s theme for this year’s HIV testing day is “Level up your self-love: check your status.” The theme emphasizes, “valuing yourself, showing yourself compassion and respect, and honoring your health needs with self-love,” and the best way to do that is to test.

For more information on Sussex Pride’s testing program visit sussexpride.org/posts/testing/ and for more information on HIV visit CDC.gov/hiv.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police chief, officers marched in Pride parade in uniform

Capital Pride cautious about whether MPD violated ‘no uniform’ policy

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D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith marches in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith led a contingent of D.C. police officers, including members of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, in the June 8 Capital Pride Parade with the chief and all the officers in uniform in what appeared to be a violation of a Capital Pride policy of not allowing law enforcement officers to participate in the parade in uniform.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. Pride events, including the parade, posted a statement on its website in June of 2020 announcing that a policy it adopted in 2018 that does not allow uniformed police officers to march in the parade remained in effect. The group told the Washington Blade this week in a statement that the no uniform policy remained in place for this year’s Pride parade.

In her own statement released on the day of the parade Chief Smith appeared to take exception to the no uniform policy without saying so directly.

“I am proud to march in today’s Capital Pride Parade in full uniform to support our LGBTQ+ colleagues and to further our commitment to creating inclusive and supportive environments,” the chief said. “MPD will continue to support, and ensure security, at Pride events and different community focused events year-round,” she said.

The chief’s statement, which was sent to the news media in a press release, added, “Having been selected as the department’s first Chief Equity Officer, and now as the Chief of Police, I’m committed to celebrating diverse identities. I will always stand up for diversity, equity and inclusion for our members and our community.”

In response to an inquiry from the Blade asking for confirmation of whether the “no uniform” policy was still in effect for the 2024 Pride parade, Capital Pride Alliance responded with a statement. 

“The Capital Pride Alliance policy concerning MPD remains in place,” the statement says. “If the group officially registers for the march, they must participate out of official uniform,” it says. 

“This year, the police did not register and as such were not an official parade contingent,” the statement continues. “The police chief walked the route with on-duty police officers, and being on-duty, officers are required to be in uniform.”

The statement adds, “We continue to have conversations with MPD, including the Chief of Police, about how we build a collaborative relationship with our community.”

D.C. police didn’t immediately respond to a Blade request for comment by Chief Smith or a spokesperson on the claim by Capital Pride officials that the police were not in an official contingent in this year’s parade.

Capital Pride officials did not respond to the Blade’s additional request this week for an explanation of why the no uniform policy was adopted and whether the policy is still needed.

In earlier statements posted on its website in past years, Capital Pride officials cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd that triggered anti-police protests across the country as an issue that made some in the LGBTQ community and others participating in the Pride parade uncomfortable in the presence of uniformed police officers.

“Pride this year comes on the heels of a global pandemic and a nation confronting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers,” the group said in a June 3, 2020, statement. The Floyd case and the 2020 police shooting deaths of a Black woman in Louisville, Ky., and a Black transgender man in Tallahassee, Fla. “have created a nationwide uprising crying out for racial justice and the protection of Black life,” the statement said.

“As members of the Black and Brown communities have stood with the LGBTQ+ community, the Capital Pride Alliance stands in complete solidarity to unite against these disparities that impact communities of color,” the 2020 statement said. “We pledge that we will work together to find solutions and make positive changes that are so desperately needed to end inequity, injustice, and violence against people of color.”

Activists have acknowledged that the LGBTQ community nationwide has been divided over decisions to ban uniformed police participation in Pride parades in cities across the country, including New York and San Francisco.

A June 2019 nationwide poll of 801 LGBTQ people in the U.S. conducted by the polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found that 79 percent of LGBTQ adults said, “police should be welcome to join pride events,” with just 8 percent expressing opposition to police presence, according to BuzzFeed.

“People of color, who made up 21 percent of all survey respondents, support cops in pride events by 77 percent to 8 percent (15 percent say it makes no difference either way),” BuzzFeed reported in a June 24, 2019, article.

Earl Fowlkes, the founder and former CEO of the D.C.-based Center For Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride events, told the Blade that Black Pride has not adopted a policy of restricting uniformed police officers from participating in any of its events.

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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