Chelsea Manning's hormone treatment OK'd, but not long hair

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Friday, February 13, 2015
U.S. Army, Pfc. Chelsea Manning
In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick.
AP Photo/U.S. Army, File

WASHINGTON -- The Army has approved gender-reassignment hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence analyst convicted of espionage for sending classified documents to the WikiLeaks website, but says she can't grow out her hair.

The decision on hormone therapy marks the first time the Defense Department has authorized such treatment for an active service member.

But Manning will not yet be allowed to grow her hair to a female grooming standard, according to the Feb. 5 memo from Col. Erica Nelson, commandant of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Manning is serving a 35-year sentence.

The Associated Press obtained the memo Friday. It was first reported Thursday by USA Today.

The treatment would help the Army private formerly known as Bradley Manning to make the transition to a woman. Manning changed her legal name in April 2014.

The decision follows a lawsuit filed in September in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It alleged Manning was at a high risk of self-castration and suicide unless she received more focused treatment for gender dysphoria, the sense of being a woman in a man's body.

Nelson wrote that she approved the treatment after carefully considering a recommendation that it was medically appropriate and necessary and after "weighing all associated safety and security risks."

Manning's hairstyle will be revisited seven months after the hormone treatment begins, according to the memo. It didn't say when the treatment would start. An immediate change in hair length "is not supported by the risk assessment and potential risk mitigation measures at this time," Nelson wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union has not withdrawn its lawsuit alleging that the Army was providing some treatment but not enough, including psychotherapy from a mental health specialist who lacked the qualifications to treat gender dysphoria. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and many state and local corrections agencies administer hormone therapy to prisoners with gender dysphoria, but Manning is the first transgender military prisoner to request such treatment.

Chase Strangio, an attorney with the ACLU and counsel for Manning in her lawsuit, called the decision an important first step in Manning's treatment regimen.

"But the delay in treatment came with a significant cost to Chelsea and her mental health and we are hopeful that the government continues to meet Chelsea's medical needs as is its obligation under the Constitution so that those harms may be mitigated," Strangio said in a statement.

The 26-year-old former intelligence analyst was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq.

Transgender people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military, but Manning can't be discharged from the service while serving her prison sentence.

During a television appearance in May, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military "continually should be reviewed."

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