By: Jason Lydon*/TRT Columnist—
Chelsea Manning came out to the world as a transgender woman on August 22. Global attention has been on Chelsea for three years, since she released information exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq. The hours and days following Chelsea’s announcement were riddled with news stories, press statements and organizations attempting to place Chelsea’s experience as a transgender woman within the context of other transgender people in prison. Chelsea made her intentions to begin hormone replacement therapy known, sparking both endless transphobic rants in much of the media and also explicit statements of support for “medically necessary care” from mainstream LGBT organizations.
The Human Rights Campaign, HRC, made their own statement regarding Chelsea Manning’s treatment. Jeff Krehely, vice president and chief foundation officer for HRC, published a statement declaring that Manning, “Deserves Respectful Treatment by Media and Officials.” While they begin with a claim that Chelsea should be treated with respect, their concluding paragraph models anything but. Suggesting that “Pvt. Manning’s experience is not a proxy for any other transgender man or woman who wears the uniform of the United States,” is an explicit declaration of support for the war crimes Chelsea Manning exposed with her brave actions. The HRC is utilizing this moment to build on their own efforts to push for the inclusion of transgender people into the military, who are not included in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies. Rather than recognize the role the United States military has in global destruction, organizations like the HRC are pushing for transgender people to be included amongst the foot soldiers of U.S. imperialism. [pullquote]Deidre, a Black and Pink member incarcerated in Nevada, wrote in our April newspaper, ‘It takes a very uncommon courage to survive as transgenders, does it not?[/pullquote]
I feel honored to be part of an organization that also released a statement regarding Chelsea Manning. Black and Pink aligns with organizations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project who have been forcing the conversation to extend to the realities of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in U.S. prisons. While there are very few organizations that have worked with LGBT people in military prisons, the analysis that stems from other prison work is essential for the ongoing support that needs to surround Chelsea Manning. It is also important to recognize that the attention to Chelsea Manning, a white transgender woman, cannot take away from the efforts to support and free CeCe McDonald.
To close, I am including an excerpt from Black and Pink’s statement in support of Chelsea Manning. As LGBTQ people we need to write letters of support to Chelsea, CeCe, and all those locked up behind the wall. “Chelsea Manning will do her time in a military prison. The majority of her time will be spent at Ft. Leavenworth, the United States Disciplinary Barracks. Leavenworth, a maximum security men’s prison, is under the U.S. Army Corrections System, and it reports to the six-year-old U.S. Army Corrections Command. The U.S. military does not currently provide hormone replacement therapy for transgender prisoners under their control. Efforts to provide Chelsea Manning support will need to learn from the successes of transgender veterans who have secured treatment through Veterans Affairs as well as from those of us who have successfully advocated for gender affirming medical treatment in county, state, and federal jails/prisons. We know, as the Black and Pink family, that transgender prisoners experience high levels of sexual and physical assault, harassment, medical neglect, self-harm, and placement in solitary confinement or administrative segregation. Many are prevented from or punished for expressing their gender. Chelsea Manning has already gone through hellish treatment and torture by the U.S. military. We call on all advocates to continue paying attention to her needs and join Manning as she decides how best to campaign for herself. [pullquote]It is also important to recognize that the attention to Chelsea Manning, a white transgender woman, cannot take away from the efforts to support and free CeCe McDonald. [/pullquote]
Chelsea Manning is one of thousands of transgender prisoners incarcerated in the United States. Deidre, a Black and Pink member incarcerated in Nevada, wrote in our April newspaper, ‘It takes a very uncommon courage to survive as transgenders, does it not? And if you, right now, don’t see it that way? Pray, meditate, manifest… whatever you do, to see it that way. The bravery it takes to change and evolve ourselves – medically, surgically, psychologically, and spiritually – that’s our love for ourselves, that’s our strength. Use all of that to stand tall in the face of it all, and fight!’ As we fight for Chelsea Manning’s health care, let us not forget the fight for her freedom. As we fight for the freedom for Chelsea Manning, let us not forget the fight to free all prisoners. The United States prison industrial complex functions as a tool of domination and control that steals the lives of poor people, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people with disabilities, and those who resist the violence of the government. The fight for Chelsea Manning is part of the fight for abolition, the fight for a day where we live free from police, militaries, judges, and the cages that steal millions from our communities.”
*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist community minister focusing his time organizing with Black and Pink, an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and free world allies who support each other. You can reach Jason by email at email@example.com.