Bradley Manning, the Army private who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for disclosing highly damaging national intelligence, now wants to live the rest of his life as a woman. In order to do so, however, he wants expensive surgery and hormone treatments, none of which the government is likely to provide him at Ft. Leavenworth, where he will serve his prison term.
Manning, who now wishes to be called Chelsea, is clearly a troubled young man -- and yes, no matter how feminine he "feels," he is a man. Surgery and drugs may transform his physical appearance, but no amount of surgery or hormones changes an individual born with a Y chromosome into a female.
Manning will have to wait for the transformation he seeks, but not as long as his sentence suggests. He'll be up for parole in about 8 years.
His decision to go public with this information seems calculated to win him sympathy and attention -- but he also may be embarking on his next crusade. Will Manning try to force the prison system to allow him to have surgery or obtain hormone treatments? It's not out of the question. The transgender community continues to push for special treatment for those who make the choice to live as the opposite sex. But what should society's obligation be to accommodate the transgendered?
Some states allow transgendered individuals to officially change their gender identification on government IDs, but that hardly solves the problem. In some arenas, such as employment, deciding to live as a member of the opposite sex wouldn't seem to make a huge difference. Because employers already are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of sex, it probably shouldn't matter if accountant or salesperson Robert shows up to work one day as Roberta.
But what about employment in which gender is pertinent to the job? Should a male TSA agent one day be able to pat down female travelers because he changed his sexual identity? Should parents of elementary school children have to explain to their kids why Mr. Jones is now Ms. Jones? Sex may be largely irrelevant to most jobs, but not in every case.
And if employment for the transgendered can be tricky, transgender inmates pose an acute dilemma for the prison system. Some prisons allow transgender inmates to continue to receive hormone therapy -- at government expense -- to maintain their pre-incarceration levels of female hormones (the problem is almost entirely a male-to-female transgender phenomenon). But in doing so, they put transgendered inmates at greater risk of prison rape, which is already a major problem in penal institutions.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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