Not only are gay soldiers at risk in South Korea’s army, but so too are transgender soldiers.
A transgender soldier who enlisted in South Korea’s army as a man but wanted to continue serving as a woman after sex reassignment surgery has been discharged. And now, she’s planning to sue over the dismissal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Staff Sgt. Byun Hee-soo, who’s in her 20s, enlisted in the military in 2017. She says it has been her childhood dream to serve in the military.
“I want to show that I can protect the nation as an excellent soldier regardless of my gender identity,” she told reporters Wednesday after her discharge. “Please allow me the opportunity.”
The country of South Korea is complicated in its social and legal stance. It stands fairly centered on liberal and conservative notions, but like the U.S.A. it struggles with some toxic conservative laws. For instance, the country still undergoes a two-three year draft for all male citizens (in order to defend against North Korea). In addition, same-sex relations within the military are punished with a possible two years in prison. Even further, some military higher-ups have been caught using Grindr to trap gay soldiers into violating the code.
That said, the military has no specific law against transgender service members. Yet, Sgt. Byn Hee-soo was discharged effective Jan 24. As a defense for this action, military higher-ups quoted a military code stating that soldiers who remove or damage their genitals are physically or mentally imbalanced. Sgt. Byun, however, argues that she went through the surgery to relieve herself of depression. She also says her unit supported her decision.
LGBTQ rights groups have expressed outrage at Sgt. Byun’s dismissal. In addition, Lim Tae-hoon of the military rights center noted that the military chose to discharge Sgt. Byun with less than a week’s notice instead of providing the usual three-months’ notice.
“This is outright discrimination,” said Kyeoul Kim who heads the Trans Liberation Front.