Borrebach: It’s Pitt’s time to address all issues, transgender ones included

By Naomi Borrebach / Columnist

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, was recently convicted of leaking military documents to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced on Aug. 21 to 35 years in prison for leaking such documents. What seemed to be another surprising ruling in light of the domestic encroachment abuse puppeted by the NSA only became more controversial.

Following the sentencing, Manning announced the next day that she considered herself a woman and always felt female. She requested to be called Chelsea and asked for hormone therapy while serving her sentence in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. In a further statement released by her lawyer, Manning said that she didn’t intend to pursue sex-reassignment surgery, but she intends to pay for her own hormone treatments — provided that she’s allowed to have them in prison.

However, according to the New York Times, an Army spokesman said that the Army does not provide hormone therapy for transgender people, and it is uncertain whether or not the prison at Fort Leavenworth will even allow Manning to undergo hormone therapy, even if she pays for it herself. The Army spokesman further noted that antidepressants and counseling were considered sufficient treatment for gender dysphoria in prison.

Manning’s legal team expressed intentions to pursue the matter in court if Manning is denied hormone therapy. It’s clear that the military prison should do the right thing without a lawsuit: provide hormone therapy, suitable medical treatment and counseling and appropriate and safe housing in a timely manner. Mandating that someone suffer through the psychological pain of being the wrong gender for a 35-year sentence could not only be immoral, but unconstitutional, as well — constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

And, in light of this current issue, it’s important to consider that transgender people struggle to gain equality not just in the military system, but even at liberal institutions like universities. 

Despite the popularity of Pitt’s annual drag show and the progressive views held by most students, our campus is a long way from fully embracing students who fall outside of the traditional gender dichotomy.

And in all of the recent changes at Pitt — like the announcement of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg retiring at the end of the year and updates such as renovated classrooms, a new dorm and wireless Internet access in residence halls — the administration has been silent on an issue that has generated controversy for more than a year, despite student activism and criticism from The Pitt News’ editorial board.

The current University policy regarding transgender students’ use of public gendered facilities (like locker rooms and restrooms) seems more appropriate for the 1950s than 2013: The policy states that students must use facilities that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates, and students who wish to use other facilities must first have invasive and expensive sex-reassignment surgery. Pitt Rainbow Alliance President Tricia Dougherty filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations in April 2012 to draw attention to Pitt’s current policy.

Like Chelsea Manning, transgender students at Pitt shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll receive proper accommodations — including gender-neutral housing, restrooms and locker rooms — and no one should be pressured into undergoing invasive sex-reassignment surgery.

Hopefully, the nationwide media attention given to the rights of transgender people will inspire institutions across the country — including Pitt — to change their policies for the better. 

Write Naomi at [email protected]