For many Americans, US Army Pvt. Bradley Manning - the young man
who now wishes to be known as a transgender woman called "Chelsea
Manning" - brought the issue of gender identity to mind for the
Pvt. Manning, court martialed and sentenced this week to 35 years
in a military prison for leaking some 700,000 classified items to
the controversial whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, may be
unusual in this regard, but he is far from unique. Nor is his
particular circumstance - how to fit into a culture and society
marked by historical, political, and religious norms about gender -
necessarily unusual, even given its military aspect.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that
there are nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the US today -
males who feel and think of themselves as female and vice versa.
That's less than 0.3 percent of the population.
But the figure may be understated as it becomes more acceptable
for such individuals to reveal their self-perceived gender identity
to what may be a critical world around them.
Among psychologists and psychiatrists, the trend has been to
shift from labeling such inclinations as "gender identity disorder"
to "Gender Dysphoria" (as the latest version of the American
Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders does), which carries less of a stigma. (The
American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a
mental disorder in 1973.)
Advances in transgender rights - which are included in many gay
rights laws - have followed.
According to the ACLU, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii,
Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey,
New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the
District of Columbia all have laws clearly prohibiting
discrimination against transgender people.
In federal prisons, inmates have a right to receive an evaluation
of their gender status, and where applicable, a treatment plan for
Gender Dysphoria (including hormone therapy), reports the ACLU.
(This will not be true - at least initially - for Pvt. Manning
incarcerated in the Fort Leavenworth maximum security prison in
In any case, the issue is becoming increasingly political -
focused most recently on communities faced with decisions involving
Colorado officials recently ruled that a suburban Colorado
Springs school district discriminated against a transgender 6-year-
old (anatomically a boy, although she thought of herself as a girl)
by preventing her from using the girls' bathroom, in what advocates
described as the first such ruling in what Vice President Joe Biden
has been quoted as calling "the civil rights issue of our time."
And in California earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed
legislation requiring public schools to allow transgender students
access to whichever restroom and locker room they want. …