Metro Weekly

Military won’t let Chelsea Manning grow out her hair

Officials insist Manning adhere to male grooming standards, conflicting with recommended treatment for gender dysphoria

An image of Manning sent in a April 24, 2010, email coming out to her supervisor (Photo: Chelsea Manning, via U.S. Army file).
An image of Manning sent in an April 24, 2010, email coming out to her supervisor (Photo: Chelsea Manning, via U.S. Army file).

The U.S. military on Friday rejected a request by Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year prison sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to allow her to follow female grooming standards, including growing out her hair, as part of her treatment for gender dysphoria. 

Manning, a former U.S. Army private, came out as transgender one day after being sentenced in 2013 for providing more than 700,000 government files to the online government watchdog site Wikileaks in one of the largest leaks of classified documents in American history.

In September 2014, Manning’s lawyers, along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Kansas, filed a lawsuit against then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other Defense Department and U.S. Army officials for failing to provide their client with necessary medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. 

According to Manning’s lawyers, her clinically recommended treatment includes hormone therapy, access to care by a qualified medical provider, and permission to follow female grooming standards. Although the military has since agreed to treat Manning with hormone therapy, speech therapy and cosmetics, they have refused to allow Manning to grow out her hair, citing security concerns.

On Friday, Manning tweeted from her official Twitter account: “Bad news for me: Military continues to make me cut my hair to male standards. I’m gonna fight this in court.” The ACLU said in a press release that it would be returning to court on Oct. 2 to challenge the rejection of Manning’s request.

According to an ACLU primer on the case, treating gender dysphoria requires not only hormone therapy but changes to gender expression, such as growing hair, in order to “live consistently with one’s gender identiy as part of accepted standards of care.” Without proper treatment, individuals may suffer severe psychological distress, anxiety, and may even contemplate suicide. The ACLU also notes that “the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Psychological Association have issued policy statements that support providing treatment to prisoners diagnosed with the condition in accordance with established standards of care, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons and many state corrections agencies are already doing.”

“Even though the military agrees that allowing Chelsea to grow her hair is a critical part of her treatment plan, they continue to deny her basic human and constitutional rights,” said Chase Strangio, an attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “When we filed our lawsuit a year ago, Chelsea had already waited more than a year for even minimal care to treat her gender dysphoria. We are confident that this decision will be overturned by the court but saddened that Chelsea’s treatment continues to be needlessly impeded.”

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