South Korea’s first transgender soldier posthumously wins case against the army over her ‘illegal’ discharge

Byun Hee-Soo cries during a press conference
Byun Hee-soo weeps during a press conference at the Center for Military Human Right Korea in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.
  • Byun Hee-soo, South Korea's first transgender soldier, was dismissed after undergoing gender confirmation surgery.
  • She was found dead in her apartment in March, and reports say she died by suicide.
  • A court has ruled that her dismissal was illegal and that the army should rescind the wrongful discharge.

South Korea's first transgender soldier has posthumously won a court case against the nation's army over her "illegal" dismissal, Pink News reported.

The Daejeon District Court ruled on Thursday that it was unlawful for the army to forcibly discharge the former staff sergeant Byun Hee-soo, who was a tank driver in the South Korean army, following her gender confirmation surgery last year.

The court also ruled that she was clearly a female by law and ordered that the army rescind the wrongful discharge, according to reports.

Byun was dismissed from the military following her decision to undergo gender confirmation surgery in Thailand last year while on leave, Reuters reported. She had expressed a desire to continue serving in the female corps following the surgery.

South Korea prohibits transgender people from joining the military and rejected her petition for reinstatement in July last year, per ABC News.

Military officials argued that her loss of male genitalia amounted to a mental and physical disability, Vice reported.

At the time, Byun protested the dismissal and vowed to "challenge the decision until the end." She launched a legal battle in August 2020, arguing that the army's treatment of her was unconstitutional.

She was found dead in her apartment, aged 23, in March 2021. Although reports have not confirmed her cause of death, it has been reported that she died by suicide. Her family took over the late soldier's case.

South Korea's army has said that it respects the decision but it has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling, Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

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