The sudden death of the first known transgender soldier in South Korea, Byun Hui-su, sparked an outpouring of condolences on Thursday, March 4.
Byun, 23, was dismissed from her role as a staff sergeant last year for undergoing gender affirmation surgery.
On Wednesday, March 3, Byun was found dead by authorities at her home in the southern city of Cheongju.
Her death was met with an outpouring of nationwide grief. Byun came to prominence in South Korea last year when she launched a landmark legal challenge against senior military officials following her dismissal.
Byun’s hope was to continue to serve in the military’s female corps.
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) March 5, 2021
Public outcry intensified when the military said that they were not in a position to make a statement. Following the backlash, South Korea’s Defence Ministry Deputy spokesman Moon Hong-Sik made a brief comment:
“We express condolences for the unfortunate death of former Sergeant Byun Hui-su.”
LGBTQ+ advocates have responded to Byun’s tragic death with calls for the South Korean government to bring into law more protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Byun Hui-su, the first known transgender soldier in South Korea, was found dead in her home on March 3. A cause of death has not been announced. pic.twitter.com/gDnbymNhxp
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) March 3, 2021
In South Korea, all able-bodied people who are assigned male at birth are required to serve as a soldier in the country’s military for two years. Byun’s courageous taking on of senior military officials has started a wider conversation on how trans individuals are treated in the military.
Advocates are also calling for the anti-discrimination bill to be brought into effect immediately.
The anti-discrimination bill was proposed in June 2020 which includes protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Seo Ji-hyun, a prosecutor and leader of South Korea’s #MeToo movement wrote South Korea “could have saved” Byun:
“We could have saved her … We just had to let her live life true to who she was,” calling for the implementation of the anti-discrimination bill “right now”.
In South Korea homophobic and transphobic attitudes remain deeply entrenched within society. In 2017, a National Humans Rights Commission of Korea poll found 92.6% of the nation’s LGBTQ+ community surveyed said they worried about becoming the targets of hate crimes.
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