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"Empowering, So Brave": Trans Activists Praise Chelsea Manning, Raise Fears over Prison Conditions

Manning's announcement has raised many issues about how she will be treated in military prison, whether she will have access to hormone therapy and broader issues about transgender rights.

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Amy Goodman: Lauren McNamara, I wanted to turn to excerpts from Instant Messenger chats between you and Manning from 2009. At the time, you used the Internet handle "ZJ," while Manning went by "bradass87." Manning writes, "uhhm... I’m politically active, even more so after enlisting... living under "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" will certainly do that." You reply, "Yeah, I can’t say I’d ever enlist, for that reason in particular."

Elsewhere, Manning writes, "being around my platoon for 24 hours a day... it took them awhile, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me, heating up with one or two physical attacks... which i fended off just fine, but it was scary ... damn, i just read that... what the hell did i put myself through." You reply, "yeah, I doubt I’d ever join the military."

In another part, Manning writes, "don’t mean to sound overdramatic, but I’m quite lonely." You respond by typing "aww," and Manning quickly replies by saying, "I’m okay."

So, you knew Chelsea when Chelsea was Bradley and was involved with a man in a gay relationship. Is that right, Lauren?

Lauren McNamara:Yes, I did.

Amy Goodman: And what did he—at that time, what did Chelsea talk to you about when it came to what she was doing at that point? Did you have any idea what was happening—the release of the documents, for example? And what did you testify at the trial, the court-martial of Bradley Manning?

Lauren McNamara: At the time, when we spoke, there was no indication that she was planning any sort of leaks of classified material. And that happened after our chats, several months after that. At the time when she spoke about her role as an intelligence analyst, this was something that she was proud of, and it was a job that she enjoyed and took pride in. She often spoke about how she wanted to do her best and compile the best information, to provide it to soldiers working in the field, and hopefully reduce conflict around the world. As she said at one point in our conversations, she wanted to make sure that everyone got home safely to their families, both the soldiers and the local nationals in the countries where the military is operating.

Amy Goodman: Can you talk about your own story, Lauren, how you made the transition?

Lauren McNamara:Yes. I started transitioning—well, at least in 2011 or so was when I started identifying as a woman openly. And in 2012, I started treatment. And so, I’ve been doing that for a while now. And so, I feel that Chelsea and I have followed somewhat similar courses in that regard over the past few years, even though we’ve had obviously very different experiences due to everything that she’s been through.

Amy Goodman: Chase Strangio, you’re a staff attorney with the ACLU. Can you talk about what Chelsea will now face? I mean, this very serious issue, Fort Leavenworth is a prison for men.

Chase Strangio: Yeah, and I think what we learned yesterday from Chelsea was a few very important things. She has asked that she be referred to as Chelsea, that we use female pronouns when referring to her, and she has stated publicly that as part of her treatment for her diagnosed gender dysphoria, she will be seeking hormone therapy. And that’s what we heard from her yesterday.

The Army responded with a statement that they absolutely do not provide hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgeries related to gender transition for purposes of treating gender dysphoria. The position taken by the Army has been a position taken by other corrections agencies at the state and federal level, and has been found by all leading medical and mental health associations, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, as well as the majority of federal courts to have reached this issue, to be both inconsistent with medical recommendations and unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. So, there’s a lot of concern about the Army’s statement yesterday. That is an unconstitutional policy that has been struck down in other contexts, and we expect that that would be something that will change, because absolutely it is not consistent with the medicine or the law on this issue.