Sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for leaking information that exposed US imperialist wars and vastly contributed towards the Tunisian people’s movement against their violent dictator, the world watched as Chelsea Manning came out as a trans woman, was refused physical transition in prison, and suffered multiple suicide attempts as a result of the harrowing experience of being a trans woman unjustly imprisoned. We protested, screamed her name at Pride marches and wrote countless letters of solidarity to her.
This week, just three days before the end of his presidency, President Obama commuted Chelsea’s sentence. Instead of finishing the brutal sentence originally imposed, Chelsea now has only five more months to go before she is released and can recover from the trauma she has endured in prison, both the damage of the prison industrial complex itself and the withholding of her agency to hormonally transition. Although there’s much cheering and flag waving for Obama’s intervention, it’s important to remember that it was his administration that put her there in the first place. Our cheers, love and thanks should be pointed toward the people that fought for Chelsea’s rights and pressured Obama to commute. They are the ones who protested, they are the ones invoking her name at Pride, they are the ones that remembered her. Celebrate those that signed petitions, sent her money, shared her articles and tweets and never forgot her when denouncing the structures that put her away.
Whilst her new found freedom is certainly a victory, we must not forget those whose sentences have not been commuted, those who have yet to endured years in prison for simply existing – particularly trans women of colour and sex workers, who are often awarded long and cruel sentences. We must not forget that they are often placed in male prisons, assaulted by the men they are forced to live with, ridiculed by the guards and like Chelsea Manning, denied their autonomy and their right to safely physically transition. We must remember those who do not have people fighting directly for their right to live, and all those incarcerated in the prison industrial complex.
We at Free Pride shout solidarity with Chelsea Manning, and celebrate her freedom. Whilst it’s exciting to envision the potentials that lie ahead in her public advocacy of trans rights and critique of the prison system, we have to remember not to make her our poster child; after enduring the horror of the last few years, most of all, we want her to live her life, heal, and be free.
Words by Oli and Isobel