On Tuesday, the U.S. Army soldier convicted in 2013 for leaking top secret government documents to the public, Chelsea Manning, wrote an op-ed in The Guardian about transgender rights — or more accurately, a lack of it in the United States.
In her piece in The Guardian, while acknowledging that achieving civil justice and protecting civil rights — citing Michael Brown- and Eric Garner-related protests, as well as immigration reform — remain a struggle, Manning lamented the lack of support and awareness in the fight for transgender rights:
The fight for justice for the transgender community is largely invisible to our fellow citizens, despite the rampant systematic discrimination of trans people – those whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The soldier gained both notoriety and acclaim when she leaked thousands of secret documents detailing gross abuses carried out by U.S. Army soldiers, the government's complicity with repressive regimes in the Middle East and information about the Iraqi war, among other details. Currently serving a 35-year sentence for perpetrating the largest leak of government documents in U.S. history, Manning announced that she had always been female a day after her sentencing, and subsequently filed a lawsuit to obtain transgender treatment.
Most people who are cisgender — people who identify with the gender they were assigned to at birth — place too much emphasis on administrative, legal and medical aspects of trans identity, wrote Manning. She singled out applying for identification documents as a "hostile experience" — in the U.S. and the UK, there are only two choices for gender identification in official documents, male and female, and one is expected to conform to the standards of the gender that he or she is assigned to at birth, despite identifying otherwise. She wrote:
You’re told you don’t belong because you don’t fit into one of the tiny boxes offered by the system. And for those of us in the military, this civil rights violation of trans people’s basic identity is downright life-threatening.
Despite bureaucratic assumptions, we exist.
Bringing up her own harrowing experience of filing a petition to change her name earlier this year, Manning recounted its lengthy and costly process — despite assistance from counsel — before even a court hearing took place, and the various other obstacles she faced in its course. She also noted that her name change did not affect her "legal" gender status.
Although the fight for LGBT rights seem to be making some headway in the U.S. — especially concerning same-sex marriage — transgender people face a disproportionate number of discrimination "in all areas of life," according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Transgender Americans face a whole host of obstacles, some of which include being banned from military service and being denied custody of their children.
Manning also bemoaned the legal structures that transgender people have to overcome, because "such systems are inherently, if indirectly, biased to favor high income, straight, white, cisgender people," she remarked, adding:
How can trans people change a system to which we don’t even have access? A doctor, a judge or a piece of paper shouldn’t have the power to tell someone who he or she is... We should all be able to live as human beings – and to be recognized as such by the societies we live in.
We shouldn’t have to keep defending our right to exist.
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