The U.S. Army has told Chelsea Manning she will be permitted to receive gender affirmation surgery, ending a hunger strike that she began last week.
“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing,” Manning said in a statement that the ACLU released. “I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me. But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long.”
Manning was convicted in 2013 of charges that included espionage and theft after leaking government documents to the website WikiLeaks. The day after sentencing in August 2013, she came out as a woman and requested hormone therapy.
Since then, Manning has fought to receive medical care for her gender dysphoria while incarcerated.
She filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel along with Department of Defense and Department of the Army officials, seeking access to medical treatment for gender dysphoria. The lawsuit also requested access to “female grooming standards,” since under current Army rules, Manning is barred from growing her hair long.
In 2015, Manning was approved for hormone therapy. Manning’s psychologist recommended in April that she receive gender affirmation surgery, which the American Medical Association has recognized as a form of “therapeutic treatment” for people with gender dysphoria. The American Psychological Association in 2008 called on public and private insurers to cover these treatments.
No other transgender person has received gender affirming surgery while in prison, according to the ACLU.
Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The New York Times that the delay in receiving treatment had caused Manning significant mental distress. Earlier this summer, Manning attempted suicide — something for which transgender people are at a significantly elevated risk — leading to further charges against her.
“It was clear that one of the main drivers of her mental health crisis was that there was really no hope that she would ever receive the care that she needs,” Strangio said.
The Army did not announce a change in its policy enforcing male hair length standards for Manning.