On July 12, 2007, two United States Army Apache helicopters opened fire on nine to eleven men in Baghdad, according to United States Central Command. After the dust settled, eight men lay dead. A second strike wounded two children and raised the overall death toll from eight to 12, according to the New York Times.
This event and thousands of others were leaked by a United States Army soldier then known as Bradley Manning. For being a whistleblower, Manning received a dishonorable discharge and 35 years in prison, with parole eligibility after eight years.
After being sentenced, Manning released a statement: “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.”
With this simple declaration, Manning publicly identified as transgender, one of America’s highly discriminated and marginalized minority groups.
According to a survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 78 percent of transgender individuals have been harassed and 41 percent had attempted suicide in their lifetime.
A transgender person is someone whose self-identity does not “match” their assigned role in the traditional male and female gender binary.
In the fight for rights, homosexuals have won the right to marry in 13 states and are on the way to becoming more widely accepted, while the transgender community has been largely left out of the conversation. Chelsea Manning identifying as transgender brings to light the struggle of transgender people everywhere.
According to the Williams Institute an estimated 700,000 people in the United States identify as transgender. While Chelsea Manning is only one of that relatively small number, she is a patriot in the truest sense of the word.
While taking her country to task, she brought attention to her own struggle and the struggle of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Even though “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, transgender soldiers can still be discharged for revealing their identity, according to the Associated Press. If a transgender person openly identified as such, they would be barred from enlistment entirely.
Manning has forced the public and the media to rethink what a whistleblower looks like. Historically, whistleblowers have been men. Manning has turned that image on its head, proving that patriots come in many different forms and identities.
Chelsea Manning headed the single largest leak of government documents in United States history, and because of it innocent lives that would have died faceless now have an identity. With revealing her transgender identity, Manning has rightfully given much-needed exposure to the struggle of an ostracized portion of the American population.