Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified military information to WikiLeaks in 2010, will be allowed access to gender transition surgery, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday night.
“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted—for them to let me be me,” Manning said in a statement. “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.”
She was convicted in 2010 on 22 charges, including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source, violating the Espionage Act, and aiding the enemy.
Manning came out as a trans woman in 2013, three years after she was imprisoned, and has struggled with mental health issues in prison. She attempted suicide in July, and facing the threat of indefinite solitary confinement, she went on a hunger strike on September 9 that lasted approximately five days.
"I need help. I needed help earlier this year. I was driven to suicide by the lack of care for my gender dysphoria that I have been desperate for. I didn't get any. I still haven't gotten any," she said in a statement at the time.
Petitions with more than 1115,000 signatures were delivered to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning last month, calling for her not to be penalized for the suicide attempt, and for her conditions in prison to improve–in particular, her access to mental health care.
The ACLU says Manning's surgery will mark the first time a transgender person has been given access to gender reassignment surgery in prison in the U.S. In October last year, California became the first state in the country to adopt a specific policy to allow gender reassignment surgery for transgender prisoners.