South Korean Military Discharges First Trans Woman Soldier In Landmark Ruling

South Korea’s first trans woman soldier was ousted from the military — but she’s determined to keep fighting for her right to serve.

South Korea’s military has decided to discharge its first-ever transgender soldier. After days of deliberation, a military panel ruled that the trans woman violated military regulations.

The soldier, Staff Sgt. Byun Hee-soo, enlisted as a man in 2017 and underwent sex reassignment surgery in Thailand in November 2019. While South Korea does not allow trans people to sign up for the military, there is no specific regulation around current soldiers who transition while serving.

Sgt. Byun was hopeful that she’d be able to continue her military service as a woman. Her case drew national attention as a “test case” for the future of the LGBT community in South Korea, The Wall Street Journal reports.

On Wednesday, a military panel announced their decision to discharge Byun on January 24 because of her surgery.

After the announcement, Byun spoke through tears at a press conference, explaining that it was her childhood dream to serve in the military. In South Korea, men are required to enlist, while women are allowed to sign up by choice.

“I want to show that I can protect the nation as an excellent soldier regardless of my gender identity,” Byun told reporters. “Please allow me the opportunity.”

Byun added that she decided to undergo surgery to relieve the gender dysphoria and depression that she was experiencing. Though the military’s decision is certainly disappointing, she doesn’t plan on giving up on her dream.

“I will continue to fight until the day I can remain to serve in the army,” she said. “I’ll challenge the decision until the end, to the Supreme Court.”

The military in South Korea has a history of hostility toward LGBT soldiers. It punishes same-sex relations with up to two years of prison. Gay men are considered to have a “personality disorder” and may be institutionalized or discharged.

Only about 19 countries allow trans soldiers to serve. In the U.S., the trans military ban only applies to new recruits.


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