Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 3 / 19 January 2017

Obama makes right call on Manning


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President Barack Obama's decision Tuesday to commute the majority of Chelsea Manning's prison sentence was justified because she has served nearly seven years under harsh conditions. She is serving time for leaking secret information to WikiLeaks, for which many consider her to be a whistleblower.

Manning, who came out as transgender after she was convicted in 2013, had been sentenced to 35 years. Since her conviction she's been housed at a men's military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has experienced deplorable treatment from the military and prison authorities.

She and her attorneys have had to fight for the basic necessities to accommodate her gender identity like hormone therapy and the ability to wear some women's undergarments. She is not allowed to grow her hair longer, a major problem that is preventing her to live more fully in her preferred gender. She has twice tried to kill herself, revealing her fragile condition.

Manning, 29, has long accepted responsibility for her actions. While she wrote at the time of her trial that her motivation was to spark worldwide discussion and reforms, she also apologized. Prosecutors presented no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks, the New York Times reported. Media outlets have regularly reported on her gender dysphoria, and the mental and emotional crisis she was experiencing while serving in Iraq.

With Obama's action this week, Manning will be released May 17.

Manning's case was unique and we're glad Obama recognized that. Others similarly convicted of improperly handling secret documents have not been sentenced to anywhere near as long as she has. Former General David Petraeus, who removed and retained classified information, was sentenced to two years probation and a $100,000 fine.

Now that Obama has commuted her sentence she can be the person "I was born to be," as she told the Times.


Thank you, Mr. President

As Obama's eight years in office is ending, we'd also like to thank him for the many good things he and his administration did for the LGBT community. Many policies, such as protections for LGBT federal employees and trans students, might not survive under the Trump presidency. But other laws, such as repealing the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, allowing LGBs to serve openly in the armed forces, and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will likely survive. Last year the Obama administration ended its ban on trans military service. Same-sex marriage is also safe for now; Trump's immediate Supreme Court pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia will not change the court's conservative-liberal split. But his future picks could.

The Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy, without it many LGBTs, and millions of other Americans will lose vital health coverage. It wasn't perfect, but it was working by providing insurance to more than 20 million previously uninsured people. For Trump and Congress to dismantle it is political malpractice.

Under Obama, the State Department made it easier for trans people to obtain passports. LGBTs are visible at many levels of the federal government, from Army Secretary Eric Fanning to the seven gay ambassadors Obama has appointed, including James Brewster (Dominican Republic), Ted Osius (Vietnam), and John Berry (Australia). In 2015, Obama named the first trans woman, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, to a White House post in the presidential personnel office. He named key straight allies to his Cabinet; one of them, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote in November's presidential election, but sadly, not enough of the Electoral College vote.

Obama's significant policy contributions aren't the only achievements we admired about his presidency. Never before had the LGBT community had an ally in the leader of the free world to shape public discourse internationally. A gifted orator, Obama, at best, could give powerful testimony to the importance of American ideals and equality for everyone. He could also be pragmatic, a trait we appreciated, even if it frustrated us at times, as during the years-long fight to repeal DADT.

It was Vice President Joe Biden, an ally if there ever was one, who forced Obama to come out in support of same-sex marriage before he was ready to. After Biden went on TV and said he was "absolutely comfortable" with letting gays and lesbians get married, the president was in a tough spot. It was a few days later on May 10, 2012, that Obama announced that he supported same-sex marriage. It was a gutsy, if shrewd, move in the midst of his re-election campaign, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

When a terrorist struck at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida last June, Obama and Biden went there and met with families and survivors. "For so many people here who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, the Pulse nightclub has always been a safe haven, a place to sing and dance, and most importantly, to be who you truly are – including for so many people whose families are originally from Puerto Rico. Sunday morning, that sanctuary was violated in the worst way imaginable," the president said as he delivered a statement.

We certainly would like to see progress continue on LGBT issues at the federal level, but are wary and don't expect much from the Trump administration. That's based on the people surrounding him and his own contradictory, inflammatory statements not only during the transition period, but going back to his badgering Obama on the false claim that he wasn't born in the U.S. The LGBT community will need to join other marginalized groups to stand together to fight Trump over myriad issues, from health care to immigration to equality for all. But we thank Obama for his eight years of leadership and the good he brought to this country.

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