Content Warning: Contains descriptions of transphobia and suicide.
Yesterday, October 7, Daejeon District Court ruled the forcible discharge of the South Korean military’s first Trans soldier as “illegal without needing further investigation”.
The case was taken against the country’s army by Byun Hee-soo, with her victory declared seven months after she was tragically found dead at her home in Cheongju, south of Seoul.
The former staff sergeant took her own life a year after she was discharged from the military she had hoped to continue to serve as a woman following her gender confirmation surgery.
It was argued by the military that the loss of her male genitals was considered a mental and physical disability, which made her unfit to serve as a Trans soldier.
The court has ruled that the decision should be cancelled, saying that it is reasonable to recognise Byun as female, and so her lack of male genitals cannot be considered a disability “when based on standards on women”.
Following the ruling, the South Korean army has said that they respect the court’s decision, but as of yet it has not been decided if they will appeal.
Although Byun Hee-soo sadly did not live to see her victory, the court’s decision is being celebrated by human rights and civic organisations as a victory for Trans rights.
A statement by the Center for Military Human Rights said, “Today’s judgement will remain in history and will be remembered as a milestone across the barrier of discrimination and prejudice and as a step towards a better society.”
“The trial is meaningful in that it reminded the society of her courage in revealing the existence of transgender people in the military,” said Transgender Liberation Front, a trans rights group.
Both organisations have called for the army to accept defeat, issue a formal apology and abandon the idea of appealing the court’s decision.
Although Byun’s victory is indeed a step forward for the Trans community in South Korea, Park Han-hee, South Korea’s first transgender lawyer, says it is not enough.
She says the military needs to create a system and guidelines for Transgender soldiers, and she points out the fact that Byun was recognised as a woman primarily because she underwent gender confirmation surgery.
“Transgender people should be able to be recognised by their gender identities as they wish, regardless of whether they have had the surgery,” said Park Han-hee.
If you have been affected by this story or are looking to reach out to someone for support or advice or just to talk, there are numerous services available for LGBTQ+ people, listed below, and many offer instant messaging support.
- LGBT Helpline
- HIV Ireland
- Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
- Pieta House
- Mental Health Ireland
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