Gary Cameron/Reuters

Judge grants Chelsea Manning name change

Decision does not compel military to treat soldier previously known as Bradley Manning as a woman

An Army private convicted of providing classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks won an initial victory Wednesday toward living as a woman when a Kansas judge granted a petition to change her name to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.

The decision clears the way for official changes to Manning's military records, but does not compel the military to treat the soldier previously known as Bradley Edward Manning as a woman.

That includes not being moved from the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, where where Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence, to a prison with a women's unit, or receiving the counseling and hormone treatment she seeks.

Manning has been diagnosed by at least two Army behavioral health specialists with gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder. She filed the court petition as the first step toward getting her Army records changed.

Manning wasn't present at the hearing before Leavenworth County District Judge David King, which lasted just about a minute, but issued a statement after the ruling calling it "an exciting day."

"Hopefully today's name change, while so meaningful to me personally, can also raise awareness of the fact that we [transgender] people exist everywhere in America today, and that we must jump through hurdles every day just for being who we are," Manning said.

Army spokesman George Wright said the only impact of the district court ruling was changing Manning's name on military records, but not the soldier's confinement status.

"Likewise, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks is a male-only facility and prisoners there are referred to by the title 'inmate,'" Wright said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Courtney Hooks of Justice Now, an advocacy group for women prisoners, said Manning’s handling is indicative of the treatment many transgender prisoners are forced to endure, and raised questions about her safety in an all-male facility.

"They're often placed in men's units, where they're far more likely to experience harassment, sexual assault and violence," Hooks told Al Jazeera.

"We can definitely see that [transgender] people face very severe difficulties and rampant human rights abuses when it comes to the violence of imprisonment itself and then the violence that people face once they are in those lockup settings," Hooks added. 

Manning has repeatedly stated her desire to live as a woman and has requested hormone replacement therapy in prison, but so far Army officials have denied those requests, and said that she will continue to be treated as a man despite the name change. Manning has also filed a grievance over the lack of a response to her requests. 

"He is still the same gender as when he came in," said prison spokesman George Marcec. No hormone therapy or related treatments are available at the prison, Marcec said.

Military parole rules could allow Manning to be out of prison in seven years, according to her legal counsel. 

The former intelligence analyst was sentenced in August for six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses for giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 secret military and U.S. State Department documents, along with battlefield video, while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

Manning said at trial that she wanted to inform Americans about U.S. warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and questioned the morality of U.S. actions.

Philip J. Victor contributed to this report, with Al Jazeera and wire services.

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