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Honoring Chelsea Manning on Her 27th Birthday

Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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December 17, 2014

From the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is serving a 35-year prison sentence for convictions related to leaking classified information to Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning continues to speak out against the injustices she experiences and observes.

Over the course of the past four years, Chelsea has faced the death penalty, lived through solitary confinement, told the world she is transgender, and sued the federal government for withholding her medical treatment for gender dysphoria.

And today, on her 27th birthday, we pause to say thank you to Chelsea. We honor her bravery in coming out as transgender, fighting for her health care, and for speaking out about and making visible the injustice committed in our country’s name.

In a birthday message to Chelsea, published in the Guardian along with similar messages from other leaders, poet Saul Williams wrote:

I know that you have been called names like ‘traitor’ and a host of others, but please never forget that for many of us who guard the flame that will one day burn the injustice out of empire you are a hero. Your actions have sparked more than global unrest, they have sparked the imagination of artists, engineers, teachers, and activists. You have given hope, even when those who would punish you for your actions remind you of your oath to God and country, your actions have reminded us that God would not favor countries more than humanity itself. And we applaud you, we buy you dresses and handbags (what size are you now?), pop bottles in your honor, and salute your wayward flag.

The past few weeks have witnessed the further unveiling of the flaws in the roots of our justice system. With the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “Torture Report;” the non-indictments of the white officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner as well as the deaths of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford III, and too many other black individuals at the hands of police officers; and the seemingly relentless murders of trans women of color in the U.S.; renewed calls for transparency and accountability have taken hold across the country and globe.

In times like these, people like Chelsea can give us hope in the possibility of standing up to make the world better, safer, and more just. But unlike the architects of the United States’ torture program or the police officers who killed unarmed black men, she is spending the next three-and-a-half decades in prison. Chelsea’s actions, as Edward Snowden wrote in his birthday message to her, “came with an unbelievable personal cost.”

Chelsea, we stand behind you and fight with you as you continue to dare to be recognized as a human being.

“The very awareness of you, of your deeds and your fate, makes us free,” Philosopoher Slavoj Žižek writes to Chelsea. “But this freedom is a difficult freedom – it is also an obligation to follow in your steps.”

Chelsea leaked classified documents into the public domain because, in her words, “I want people to see the truth…regardless of who they are…because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The fights for accountability, transparency, and justice continue. Hopefully through Chelsea’s actions and the brave actions of so many others we can continue to be informed as we craft public narratives of who we are and who we want to be, as individuals, as communities, and as a country. “We should all be able to live as human beings – and to be recognized as such by the societies we live in,” writes Chelsea. “We shouldn’t have to keep defending our right to exist.”

In a year that has brought so much tragedy to so many, let us stand in solidarity with those people, like Chelsea, who are leading us on the path toward justice and self-determination.

Read about Chelsea’s fight for medical care while in prison here.

Read the Guardian’s birthday tribute to Chelsea here.

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