Army Kicks out 1st Transgender Soldier

Jay Yim, Jan. 23, 2020, 10:44 a.m.


The Army has discharged Korea's first-ever transgender soldier although she sought to continue serving after a sex-change operation during leave.

In a meeting on Wednesday, the Army decided that sergeant Byun Hee-soo is no longer fit to serve as a soldier under Korean military regulations.

Byun was a tank driver with a military unit in northern Gyeonggi Province until she had gender reassignment surgery in Thailand while on leave late last year. The Army had warned Byun that she would not be able to return duty afterwards since the loss of genitals is considered a physical disability and gender dysphoria is classified as a mental illness.

But Byun insisted on going through with the male-to-female surgery and pleaded to stay in the Army. In a physical checkup after returning to her unit she was diagnosed with a physical disability, which requires soldiers to be discharged.

This legal clause saved the Army from considering the hairier question of LGBT rights.

"The decision was based on [the soldier's] results for the mandatory physical checkup and proper legal procedure. The decision has nothing to do with [the soldier's] transgender status or other personal reasons," the Army said in a statement.

Byun sought to delay the decision since she has applied to a court to be officially recognized as a woman and the ruling is pending. But the Army said letting the case drag on "could affect [Korea's] defense capabilities," although it acknowledged that the issue needs to be debated.

Byun in a tearful press conference Wednesday pleaded with the Army to reconsider its decision. "It was my dream to become a soldier since I was a child and I wish to continue serving as a female soldier," she said. " I will continue fighting until I can return to the Army."

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