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Bradley Manning wants to live as 'Chelsea.' Will prison go along? (+video)

The announcement by Pfc. Bradley Manning comes one day after a military judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified files. The sex change he would like to undergo can take a long time.

By Staff writer / August 22, 2013

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Bradley Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. Manning emailed his military therapist the photo with a letter titled, 'My problem,' in which he described his issues with gender identity and his hope that a military career would 'get rid of it.' On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified government files to WikiLeaks.

U.S. Army/AP

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Pfc. Bradley Manning intends to live as a woman named Chelsea Manning, he announced in a letter provided to NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday morning.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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Manning’s statement comes one day after a military judge sentenced him to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified government files to WikiLeaks.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” Manning told “Today.”

Manning’s avowed transgender status is no surprise given that testimony during his trial indicated a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, meaning he wants to live as the opposite sex. Prior to his arrest, he created an alternative identity known as “Breanna” and sent his military therapist a photo of himself wearing lipstick and a blond wig.

Some profiles of Manning published prior to his trial included extensive information about his struggles with gender identity.

But during the trial, Manning’s lawyers referred to him as male. Now he says he would like to switch. Will the military prison system accommodate such a change?

After all, the process Manning would like to undergo can take a long time. It involves therapy, a period of hormone therapy, and perhaps eventual surgical change. And Manning will be behind bars for a long time – at least seven years, and possibly much longer.

Right now it appears that during incarceration, he will have to live as a male. According to the Army, inmates in military prisons are allowed wide access to mental-health professionals. But the military system is under no obligation to help Manning or anyone else change genders, according to Defense Department officials.

“The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder,” Kimberly Lewis, a spokesman for the Army’s Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas, told NBC News.

If Manning were a civilian convicted in the federal court system, the situation could be somewhat different. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, since 2011, federal inmates have had a right to receive an evaluation of their gender status, and where applicable, a treatment plan for gender identity disorder (GID) that is consistent with the current standards of care.

In federal prisons, “even inmates who had not been diagnosed with GID prior to incarceration are entitled to an evaluation and possible hormone therapy,” according to an ACLU summary of transgender legal rights.

State prisons are stricter, however, and they house the vast majority of US prisoners. Transgender inmates in state prisons are frequently denied transition-related health care, according to the ACLU, and courts are reluctant to order medical care not deemed necessary by prison medical officials.

Manning is also likely to be housed with male prisoners. Courts generally support the decisions of prison officials as to where prisoners should be housed, and unless a transgender person has already undergone surgery, that housing is likely to be with their birth gender.

Manning’s lawyer David Coombs told “Today” that his client’s goal is not to be assigned to a woman’s prison.

“I think the ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin and to be the person that she’s never had the opportunity to be,” Mr. Coombs said.

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