The civil rights of transgender Americans are violated in everyday interactions, Chelsea Manning argued in a new Op-Ed.
Manning — the U.S. soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning who was convicted of espionage for leaking huge swaths of government documents to Wikileaks — wrote in an Op-Ed published in The Guardian on Monday that even ID and military service requirements present unfair obstacles to transgender Americans.
“We should all have the absolute and inalienable right to define ourselves,” Manning wrote in the article. “We should all be able to live as human beings — and to be recognized as such by the societies we live in. We shouldn’t have to keep defending our right to exist.”
Manning is currently serving out a 35-year prison sentence for perpetrating the largest government leak in U.S. history. The day after being sentenced, she came out as transgender through her lawyer. In September, Manning announced she would sue to have a gender reassignment surgery and, while in prison, she has regularly expressed her views — arguing for more wartime transparency and against the Syrian airstrikes — in the opinion pages of The New York Times and The Guardian.
“The fight for justice for the transgender community is largely invisible to our fellow citizens, despite the rampant systematic discrimination of trans people,” she writes, explaining that focusing on the legal and medical details of trans people creates obstacles, like setting them up for housing discrimination or forcing them to live “in secret” if they wish to join the military like Manning did.
“For many in the trans community, just applying for basic identification documents is a hostile experience. You’re told you don’t belong because you don’t fit into one of the tiny boxes offered by the system,” she said, arguing that normative government forms exclude trans people and encourage discrimination.
“Despite bureaucratic assumptions, we exist,” she said.
Manning describes her lengthy, costly effort to change her name and that despite “making it clear that I identify as female, and having two military psychiatrists recommend support for my transition, legally changing my name has no effect on the ‘legal’ gender status that the government imposes on me.”
Those legal structures favor the “high income, straight, white, cisgender people,” she argues, using a term that refers to those who feel their gender identity matches with their at-birth biological sex. “How can trans people change a system to which we don’t even have access? A doctor, a judge or a piece of paper shouldn’t have the power to tell someone who he or she is.”