They definitely knew, this has been known for a while – a fair few blogs and websites have been running this for ages, including one I read a while ago which questioned why the mainstream media hadn’t picked up on this aspect of the story. IIRC it was ‘Breanna’ instead of ‘Chelsea’ at that point.
It is relevant, certainly, because it speaks to the military’s staggering incompetence at leaving Manning in a position with access to highly privileged and confidential detail after already having confessed (to an army shrink) at having gender dysphoric feelings, suicidal thoughts, etc, and also having completely gone off on one (the ‘table-flipping’ incident, which also involved Manning going for a gun) on base previously. An unanswered question in all of this is why somebody who was so patently mentally unfit for service – either because of the gender issues or for another reason – was given such sweeping access to classified files.
There was plenty of evidence out there that she had expressed a desire to transition, so I’m not sure that her decision not to ‘come out’ and explicitly say ‘I am going to begin this process now’ is directly about a fear of how it could have affected the outcome of the trial. Surely the defense must have used her fragile mental state during her time in the military in an appeal for leniency, if anything? Seems more like she wanted to focus on the trial, and wait for the next phase of her life to begin before starting the process, and changing her name.
I have no idea how this transition will work in prison. I think it’s possible she will have a better time of it than most considering she is a very public figure, with a lot of public support and a well-documented case of mistreatment already. But will she be allowed surgery? Will she be moved to a woman’s prison?