Transgender Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced last year to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington on Tuesday accusing the Army of violating her constitutional right to necessary medical treatment related to her transition from a man to a woman.
The 19-page lawsuit reads in part like a medical journal, explaining the condition known as gender dysphoria in which a person suffers psychological distress when he or she identifies with the opposite gender from that which he or she was assigned at birth.
The ACLU, which filed the lawsuit on Manning’s behalf, said in a statement that Army doctors diagnosed her as having gender dysphoria more than four years ago while stationed in Iraq. The diagnosis came prior to her arrest for leaking the classified documents and at a time she went by her birth name of Bradley Manning.
On the day following her sentencing, Manning released a statement declaring for the first time publicly that she identified as a female and was beginning the process of transition from Bradley to Chelsea Manning.
“The government continues to deny Ms. Manning’s access to necessary medical treatment for gender dysphoria, without which she will continue to suffer severe psychological harms,” said Chase Strangio, one of her attorneys with the ACLU based in New York.
The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and three uniformed military officials in charge of Army prison policies and the prison where Manning is incarcerated.
The lawsuit says officials at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where Manning is being held, have repeatedly denied her request for standard-of-care medical treatment for gender dysphoria.
According to the lawsuit, a physician who reviewed Manning’s medical records recommended a treatment plan that included allowing her “to express her female gender through growing her hair and having access to other grooming standards and cosmetics that female prisoners are permitted.” The recommendation also calls for allowing Manning to begin a “regimen of hormone therapy to include estrogens and anti-androgens.”
The lawsuit says Manning’s request to obtain this level of treatment was denied throughout the military chain of command from the prison up to Secretary of Defense Hagel at the Pentagon.
Military officials earlier this year responded to inquiries by Manning’s lawyers, the lawsuit says, by claiming they were meeting Manning’s “treatment needs” by allowing her to receive “expanded” psychotherapy to treat her gender dysphoria.
The lawsuit says military officials claim they were further responding to her treatment needs by providing her with “female undergarments, specifically female underwear and sports bras.”
But the lawsuit says military and prison authorities continue to deny her permission to “outwardly express her female gender through female hair length and other grooming standards” and continue to deny her hormone treatment.
The lawsuit calls on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to declare that military authorities’ denial of Manning’s needed medical treatment violates her Eighth Amendment rights. It also calls on the court to issue an injunction ordering military authorities to allow Manning to receive hormone therapy and to “express her female gender by following female grooming standards, including dress and hair length.”