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South Korea’s first transgender soldier objects to military discharge decision

By ABC News

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(ABC NEWS) – South Korea’s first transgender soldier plans to file an administrative litigation after the military decided to discharge her from her duties on Wednesday.

Byun Hui-Su, staff sergeant and tank driver, stationed in Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul, underwent gender reassignment surgery in Thailand last year while on leave.

“She is indeed very brave. I think it is time for change in Korean society to embrace the gender diversity and minority groups as part of our members,” said Jieun Lee, a human rights, finance and art specialty lawyer who helps represent Byun along with the Military Human Rights Korea and Lawyers’ Knowledge Forum pro bono committee, told ABC News.

Byun was waiting for the court to approve her request to change legal gender from male to female. The National Human Rights Commission has recommended that the military wait three months before any discharge decision is made.

But South Korea’s military abruptly discharged Byun on Wednesday based on a related military personnel management act which allows discharge of people with physical or mental disabilities if those problems were not a result of combat or in the line of duty.

“It is very disappointing and annoying that the military medical review committee sees her transgender operation as physical defect based on legal gender as male,” Lee added.

Shortly after the military announcement, Byun, holding back tears, read a statement to the press describing her childhood dreams of becoming a soldier.

She was proud to have made that choice but confessed “symptoms of depression turned worse day by day because of gender dysphoria” throughout her duty.

“(Being a soldier) was my earnest dream but I continuously thought that I could not serve the military in this condition,” she read. “Apart from my gender identity, I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country.”

This is the first time in South Korea that an active-duty member has been referred to a military panel to determine whether to end his or her service due to a sex reassignment operation.

South Korea prohibits transgender people from joining the military but has no specific laws on what to do with those who have sex reassignment operations during their time in service.

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