SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean soldier who died of suicide earlier this year after being discharged from the army after undergoing sex reassignment surgery won a posthumous victory Thursday when an army court told the army to recognize her as a woman and cancel their discharge.
Staff Sergeant Byun Hui-su requested a transfer to the female military corps after the operation, but was dismissed in January 2020 on the grounds that the sex reassignment made her “disabled” and incapacitated.
Byun went to court asking for reinstatement, but she committed suicide in March before the case was resolved. Regardless of their deaths, the outcome of the case is expected to have an impact on the military’s policies towards sexual minorities.
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The Daejeon District Court said that with Byun’s gender change already legally recognized, the army should have used the standards applicable to women to determine their eligibility for service.
“If you are guided by the standards of women, there are no grounds for dismissal due to a mental or physical disability,” said the court and ruled in favor of Byun.
The army said in a statement that it respects the court’s decision but does not have to decide whether to appeal and that it will conduct a full review before deciding how to proceed.
The Center for Military Human Rights Korea, an advocacy group that Byun supported, welcomed the verdict but said it had taken far too long to achieve such a “natural and reasonable result.”
“I think this ruling makes sense as it is the beginning of the discussion that could pave the way for all transgender and sexual minorities in South Korea to serve like other citizens in the military,” said an activist with Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea. who uses the name Osori for his campaign, Reuters said.
The military was rocked by several sexual abuse scandals that year, prompting lawmakers to pass a law that would allow such cases to be dealt with by civil courts.
South Korea requires all men able to work to have at least 21 months of military service and has 550,000 soldiers on active duty and 2.7 million soldiers in reserves.