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South Korean military to appeal ruling over dismissal of trans soldier

Byun Hui-su took her own life after she was discharged from the military, where she wanted to protect her country.

2021-10-21

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels

South Korea’s military is appealing a court ruling that struck down the military’s decision to discharge the country’s first openly trans soldier.

Byun Hui-su was discharged in January 2020 and was later found dead at her apartment, aged 23. It has been reported that she took her own life.

She had told reporters she wanted to serve as a female soldier near the sometimes tense border with North Korea and had started a legal challenge to the decision.

Earlier this month, a local court decided the military had acted unlawfully when it had forced Hui-su out for transitioning during her service.

"I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country"

On 7 October, as reported by the Associated Press, the Daejeon District Court said Hui-su had told the army she’d requested to legally transition and that it had been approved less than a month after she was sent packing by the military.

In South Korea, there are rules prohibiting trans people from joining the army but there is no such rule regarding people transitioning once they have joined and are serving.

In an emotional statement announcing her legal challenge to the military's decision, Hui-su said: "Apart from my gender identity, I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country."

AP reports that when Hui-su was discharged the military used a law allowing it to do so due to a physical or mental disability not obtained through a soldier’s active duty.

The country’s defence ministry has said it respects the landmark court ruling and is seeking approval, as it must, from the Justice Department. AP says there are concerns by some in the government of a backlash if the Daejeon court’s ruling is accepted.

An appeal is expected to lead to protests.    

South Korea remains a very conservative country, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ community. Being LGBTQ can be seen as a form of disability or mental illness.

Same-sex marriage is not legal, and employment discrimination is not prohibited, according to Stonewall’s 2018 review of the country’s record on LGBTQ issues.

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