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Jun 26 2014

Why I’m representing Chelsea Manning at SF Pride

lauren-userpicThis year, Private Chelsea Manning was selected as Honorary Grand Marshal of SF Pride. As she is unable to attend, she asked me to serve as her representative due to our personal history, and I agreed. I’ll be present for various events this coming weekend, including the parade on Sunday. If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend, I hope that you’ll have the chance to stop by.

Throughout my involvement in this case, I’ve occasionally heard from trans people with some connection to the US military – defense contractors, veterans, or active duty. Some feel that Chelsea’s actions reflected poorly on trans servicemembers, and have set back the movement for trans acceptance and inclusion in the military.

Regardless of one’s opinion on Chelsea’s conduct, the fact remains that she is a trans servicemember who is currently incarcerated in a men’s prison and is still being denied access to any transition treatments. As such, her case involves key issues like integration of trans people into the armed forces, and the ability of trans people in prisons to receive appropriate transition-related care.

The Army has refused to provide Chelsea with treatment such as hormone therapy, on the basis that transgender people are ineligible to serve. However, the Army is also unable to discharge her because she’s currently appealing her sentence. Chelsea’s fight for access to treatment while incarcerated could potentially set a precedent, with implications for the military’s policy toward the eligibility of trans servicemembers and the availability of necessary care for them. The importance of changing this policy should be clear to everyone, no matter our personal opinions of Chelsea herself.

We must also recognize that transgender service in the military is not a hypothetical – it is a reality. As with gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, many trans people are currently enlisted and serving in silence. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that over 15,000 trans people are currently serving in the US military, and finds that trans people are actually twice as likely as the total adult population to have served. This is not a question of bringing trans people into the US military for the first time ever; it is a matter of accepting those who are already serving.

In light of this, citing Chelsea’s actions to justify suspicion of all trans servicemembers is plainly absurd. Thousands of trans people already serve in the US military, and many more are allowed to serve openly in the armed forces of allies such as Canada, Britain, and Israel. Using one person to make generalizations about a group of thousands is as invalid here as it would be anywhere. Such fears are not due to the actions of any particular trans person; they are due to the widespread prejudice of cis people. The enemy is not a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison without access to treatment. It is a culture of institutional intolerance toward trans people – an intolerance that is never justifiable.

These are my views, and my views alone. However, in my role as her representative, Chelsea has also asked that I emphasize certain key points to the queer and trans community: that we have the right to exist as our genuine selves, that we are the only ones who can define ourselves, and that we should stand and make ourselves visible. These values are not centered around her circumstances – this is a universal message of pride for all queer and trans people. I believe Chelsea Manning’s message deserves to be heard at SF Pride.

—Lauren McNamara
26 June 2014

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Shelley Adrienne Mimi Belsky

    The Military KNEW that she is trans, but continued to have her serve in a flagrant violation of their own rules.
    I don’t care what she did, as much as I always point out that she should have not been there to do it.
    Let her go, NOW

    1. 1.1
      Meggamat

      Whilst she almost certainly does not deserve the treatment she has received, and she has been incarcerated more than long enough, the Americans face a problem with her similar to the people at Guantanamo Bay. Whilst she had no desire to harm the American people or government prior to her incarceration and torture, she certainly has one now. Consider also her military training and her proven capacity to achieve her objectives in spite of American military security systems, and she becomes a very real threat if released. How many lives might she take in vengeance once her wrongful sentence is suspended?

      1. That Guy

        fucking hell- that’s a pretty awful thing to say.

        1. Meggamat

          So the possibility aught not to even be considered? Zinnia Jones may be able to comment on this: Zinnia Jones, what do you think?

      2. =8)-DX

        Are you serious? Has Chelsea Manning ever shown any traces of violent behaviour or expressed a wish for revenge on those holding her?

        What a disgusting comment, what a horrible thing to demonise a trans person in this way! From what I’ve heard, trans people who require medical treatment may be considered a threat to themselves due to depression and other problems, not to others.

        Trans people suffer multiple times the violence and harassment of other people, please think for a moment before blurting out things like this.

      3. timberwraith

        (I posted this below in the wrong place, originally.)

        Well, considering how abusive and awful the prison system is, civilian and military both, and considering how completely f*ked up this country’s criminal “justice” system is, I suppose we really shouldn’t release anyone from prison because there are plenty of people languishing behind bars right now who have ample reason to shred the local and federal government… and honestly, I couldn’t blame them for that level of anger.

        So, should we just incarcerate all of prison inmates for life? Because our government, our military, and our judiciary completely suck?

        I await your next few nuggets of compassion and wisdom.

        1. Meggamat

          I never advocated the continued incarceration of such people, I only pointed out that those who imprison them will take such things into consideration. I agree that your country should attempt some manner of judicial reform, but to act as though the only factor in Manning’s continued detainment will be her her guilt or lack thereof, is simply not in accord with reality.

          1. =8)-DX

            No, her guilt should be the only factor of Manning’s continued detainment. There is no judicial approach or law that allows law inforcement to keep someone under lock and key just because “military training and her proven capacity to achieve her objectives in spite of American military security systems”.

            Please provide some actual arguments – what specific thing is it that makes Manning any kind of threat comparable to Guantanamo Bay prisoners? In what world does she “become a very real threat if released”?

            You’re just flailing with paranoid assertions.

          2. Meggamat

            As a deontologist, I agree that guilt should be the only factor, but the actions of those who have incarcerated her imply that they are consequentialists, and thus they will almost certainly consider the possibility that she will seek vengeance.

  2. 2
    Katie Anderson

    Um… none? What about her makes you think she would go on a killing spree?

    1. 2.1
      Meggamat

      The fact that she was imprisoned for an immoderate period, tortured, denied appropriate medical care, and vilified by a system which has demonstrated an inability to prevent her from achieving her goals.

      1. kevinkirkpatrick

        Poe’s law. Can’t tell if this is a sharp parody of the idiocy of keeping other Guantanamo Bay prisoners illegally incarcerated, lest they blow up our country; or just idiocy. Can you confirm?

        1. Meggamat

          I never said that they SHOULD keep her locked up, only that they will probably have to take that possibility into account.

          1. Infophile

            Contrary to what Hollywood may have taught you, the typical human response to being tortured is not to go on a murderous rampage. What doesn’t kill you tends to make you a whole lot weaker, prone to a life of being potentially triggered and shell-shocked.

            Here’s an example: You know what Nelson Mandela did after being a political prisoner for decades? He ran for President. And won. And then championed reconciliation with one’s enemies. This is opposed to the Hollywood adaptation of his life in which he took on the government alone with a rifle, before finally dying himself in a blaze of glory.*

            *If they ever pick up my screenplay.

      2. timberwraith

        Well, considering how abusive and awful the prison system is, civilian and military both, and considering how completely f*ked up this country’s criminal “justice” system is, I suppose we really shouldn’t release anyone from prison because there are plenty of people languishing behind bars right now who have ample reason to shred the local and federal government… and honestly, I couldn’t blame them for that level of anger.

        So, should we just incarcerate all of prison inmates for life? Because our government, our military, and our judiciary completely suck?

        I await your next few nuggets of compassion and wisdom.

        1. timberwraith

          Oops. Posted this in the wrong place.

  3. 3
    1arritechno .

    Other Countries, have appropriately moved into the 21st Century, such as Great Britain and Australia in relation to allowing Transgender persons in the Military ; why is the United States stuck in the last Century ? If you Google: Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor you will see a quality, high ranking officer in the Australian Military ; the fact that she is Transgender does not diminish her capacity to do her job. There are others and Britain has officers, including fighter pilots ;yes, Transgender is accepted in the Military of Allied Countries as you rightly mentioned….
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    You’re on a worthy mission Zinnia ; injustice will prevail if good people do nothing . Chelsea may become the catalyst for change in the Military with all the attention in the media ; but everything in the USA is hard won…

  4. 4
    kevinkirkpatrick

    Hi Zinnia,

    Particularly after reading this, I’m really wishing I were a less confrontation-shy person in real life. After having marched in the St Louis Pride parade (advocating for transparentstl.org, an awesome resource for any families of transgender children in the St. Louis area, if I may drop a plug), my family and I attended the associated festival. All was well, but on the way out, we passed an anti-war booth which was displaying a mosaic of posters/images/slogans with an overall theme arguing for ending United States military intervention on the global stage. No problems for me in general, but as I scanned the booth while we passed it, one poster jumped out at me: “Free Bradley Manning” with sub-caption “bradleymanning.org”, and a huge background graphic of Chelsea dressed and presenting as a man.

    And, confession time, I said/did nothing (yeah, we were on our way out – but, mostly, I just am averse to confrontation) , and I just stewed on it the whole way home. In hindsight, I really wish I’d had the wherewithal to politely inform the people running that booth that, much as I appreciate their efforts to raise awareness of her mistreatment by the US Government, they had gotten Chelsea’s name/bio completely wrong – and had done so in a way that exactly mimics a huge part of her mistreatment by the US government.

    At an LGBT Pride event, FFS.

    I guess it does little to raise the point here, but hopefully getting the words down will help me be a better advocate for transgender people in the future.

    Out of curiosity, any advice for dealing with such situations?

  5. 5
    timberwraith

    Well, considering how abusive and awful the prison system is, civilian and military both, and considering how completely f*ked up this country’s criminal “justice” system is, I suppose we really shouldn’t release anyone from prison because there are plenty of people languishing behind bars right now who have ample reason to shred the local and federal government… and honestly, I couldn’t blame them for that level of anger.

    So, should we just incarcerate all of prison inmates for life? Because our government, our military, and our judiciary completely suck?

    I await your next few nuggets of compassion and wisdom.

    1. 5.1
      timberwraith

      I meant to post this above. (Oops.)

    2. 5.2
      1arritechno .

      Yes Timberwraith , a core problem within the United States of America is: it is Not United. When it comes to the Judicial system – each State is a Law unto itself . When one sees, some states with the death penalty, some not, from there down, it’s easy to realize the lack of consensus with law makers,,, to introduce any changes…
      ….
      With all the wonderful attributes in the USA for other fields ; there is a downside with States ” acting like separate countries ” at the expense of its own citizens. To some degree, the Military is an extension of the same problem; acting like a separate State. Hence we have; mistreatment of Chelsea & injustice from out of date discrimination.

  6. 6
    gworroll

    I had misgivings about Chelsea being grand marshal- but you’ve made some good points here. I’m glad someone had the guts to put her up front(via you).

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    […] Why I’m representing Chelsea Manning at SF Pride […]

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