Ruling on unfair dismissal of deceased Trans soldier is upheld

A court ruling has been upheld in a case taken against the South Korean military by a Trans soldier who sadly passed away earlier this year after being forcibly discharged.

Split screen: Byun Hee-soo on left, close up of her name on her army uniform on right
Image: YouTube

Content Warning: Contains descriptions of transphobia and suicide.

The recent ruling on the case of former Staff Sergeant Byun Hee-soo, the first known Trans soldier to fight in the South Korean military, has been upheld despite the military’s plans to appeal.

Byun’s forcible discharge from the army was ruled as “illegal without needing further investigation” by the Daejeon District Court earlier this month and the young soldier was vindicated months after her passing.

In an initial response, the military said that it respected the court’s decision. However, last week they announced their intentions to appeal the ruling, with a defence ministry official saying that they feel there is a need for a higher court to review the case.

“The defence ministry will thoroughly examine whether Transgender people can serve in the military through policy research in consideration of the unique nature of the military and public opinion,” the defence ministry official said.

However, the deadline for appeal has now passed and the army chief of staff did not formally submit a request for the case to be reviewed, meaning the initial verdict is upheld. The military reportedly received an order from the Justice Ministry to abandon their efforts to appeal.

Byun took the case against the military after they forcibly removed her from her post following her gender confirmation surgery, despite her intention and ability to continue serving as a woman.

The opposition argued that the loss of her male genitalia was a mental and physical disability, wrongly claiming that this would make her unfit to serve.

The court found that Byun must be recognised as a woman, and thus, her lack of male genitalia cannot be deemed a disability “when based on standards on women”.

Currently, Trans people are not accepted to serve in the South Korean military, but there is no specific policy in place regarding soldiers who transition during their service. With the court’s ruling on Byun’s case upheld, there may be hope for any Trans person in South Korea who hopes to become a future soldier.

Following her dismal, Byun sadly took her own life while she was still awaiting the court’s decision.

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.

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