Harvard University revokes Chelsea Manning’s LGBT rights fellowship after pressure from CIA

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Harvard University has reversed its announcement of a Visiting Fellowship for Chelsea Manning, who had been invited to discuss LGBT issues.

Former soldier Chelsea Manning had been invited this week to take up a temporary Visiting Fellow position at Harvard’s Institute of Politics to discuss “LGBTQ identity in the military”.

Manning is best known as the source of leaked documents that exposed alleged US war crimes, serving seven years behind bars for whistleblowing.

Manning came out as a transgender woman in 2013, and had been denied the right to transition behind bars, leading her to make several suicide attempts.

The most famous transgender ex-soldier was invited to a prestigious speaking position at Harvard earlier this week, in the wake of Donald Trump’s contentious trans military ban.

But the university dramatically revoked the invite this week, after the CIA pressured them to drop the speaker.

Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning

The director of the CIA Michael Pompeo had dropped out of a Harvard speaking position in protest, saying: “Harvard’s announcement of American traitor Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Politics, my conscience and duty to the men and women of the CIA will not permit me to betray their trust by appearing to support Harvard’s decision.

“Ms Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for. Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with Ms Manning’s identity as a transgender person.

“It has everything to do with her identity as a traitor to the United States of America and my loyalty to the officers of the CIA.”

Michael Morell, the former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, also resigned his  fellowship at Harvard in protest.

Following the CIA-led backlash, Harvard buckled under pressure and decided to prevent Ms Manning from speaking.

Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, said:  “We do not view the title of ‘Fellow’ as conveying a special honor; rather, it is a way to describe some people who spend more than a few hours at the School.

“We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School. Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity—as with all of our speakers—to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done.

“On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.

“However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility.”

He added: “Therefore, we are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow—and the perceived honor that it implies to some people—while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum.

“I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.

“This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.”

Despite claiming the invite was still open for Manning to speak to students, it is not clear if she will still attend.

Manning tweeted: “honored to be 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow. they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure ”

“This is what a military/police/intel state looks like [spy emoji] the @cia determines what is and is not taught at @harvard”.

Chase Santiago of the ACLU described the decision as “cowardly” and “a testament to the disturbing control that the CIA has over [Harvard]”

The decision to revoke the only LGBT-related fellowship in Harvard history has sparked anger.

Other Visiting Fellows this year include Sean Spicer, the former White House Press Secretary who spent months defending the Trump Administration’s ties to white nationalists and alleged links to the Russian state.

In one of his final acts as President, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Pvt Manning, who had been imprisoned in Fort Leavenworth military prison.