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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: Well, Chelsea Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, says he will sue.

Chase Strangio: He has stated publicly that he will do whatever it takes, and takes the position that he hopes that Fort Leavenworth will change its position, in part because we know from the other fights of transgender women, especially in prison, who have fought this issue for decades, that courts have found that it is an unconstitutional violation of the Eighth Amendment to withhold medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria, which includes hormone therapy and multiple types of surgeries related to gender transition.

Amy Goodman:  Explain what you mean by "gender dysphoria."

Chase Strangio: Gender dysphoria is a recognized mental health condition and a serious medical condition. It is in the DSM-5. It was previously known as "gender identity disorder," or GID, which is what the Army referred to it as yesterday. It is a condition that has clear set of treatment protocols, including hormone therapy and surgery related to transition, in some cases. These are not experimental treatments. These are not new treatments. These are vital, life-saving treatments for transgender individuals. So the care that Chelsea Manning has mentioned yesterday, asking that she be provided with hormone therapy, is not something that is new. It is a recognized part of the very clearly established treatment protocols for this condition, which is recognized by all major medical and mental health associations.

Amy Goodman: Can you tell us your story, your transitioning from woman to man?

Chase Strangio: I am someone who identifies as transgender. And as a transgender person, hearing from Chelsea Manning yesterday is especially, you know, empowering. I think it is so brave to come out. We’ve heard from a lot of people lately in the media about their stories. CeCe McDonald, who’s presently incarcerated, has put out a  blog that I really recommend that people reference and look to, just to hear from transwomen who are presently incarcerated about their experience.

Amy Goodman: Very briefly, tell her story, CeCe’s story.

Chase Strangio: CeCe McDonald is a transwoman. She was defending herself in Minnesota after she was targeted for racist and very transphobic incidents. CeCe is a black transwoman. She was convicted of manslaughter and is now serving time in Minnesota state prison. She is someone who has spoken out about the treatment of transgender individuals in detention. She has told her story.

In addition to CeCe’s story, we’ve heard a lot from Janet Mock. Janet Mock is another leader in the transgender community, a transwoman of color who yesterday issued an incredible statement about the struggles of transgender individuals to access healthcare both in and out of detention and how vitally life-saving this healthcare is for transpeople.

Amy Goodman:  Lauren McNamara, you create  YouTube videos under the name "Zinnia Jones: Secular Trans Feminist." Private Manning had been a fan of your videos, and reached out to you online hoping you would be someone in whom he could confide. I want to go to a clip of a video you made around the time you were corresponding with Manning. This clip is from February 25th, 2009. It’s entitled, "I Told My Family I’m Gay."

Lauren McNamara: It’s so strange that I have no problem telling the entire Internet that I’m gay, but I couldn’t even tell my own family. To me, that is just ridiculous. So I decided to fix this whole situation. I had to. My conscience pretty much required it. I mean, I’m going to be 20 years old this year, and I can’t keep this a secret forever. I shouldn’t have to. If I can be honest with myself and with you, then I should be honest with my family, too.

Amy Goodman: That’s Lauren McDonald [sic] in 2009. Lauren, what would you say—Lauren McNamara, sorry—what would you say to Chelsea today?