Transgender soldier wins trial – and loses her life

It says that Byun Hee-soo’s release in January 2020 was illegal. The army should have treated her as a woman, not a mutilated man. Your followers are happy. On Friday, the Ministry of Defense in Seoul said it would initiate a study on whether and how the rules for transgender people in military service should be changed. The belated verdict could be a turning point – which, from the perspective of human rights activists, South Korea also needs.

Discrimination is ubiquitous

But the success also distracts a bit from the fact that South Korea is not only a competitive business and entertainment location, but also a conservative society. A society in which the right to freedom is not developing as quickly as the expansion of the ultra-fast Internet or the next generation of smartphones.

The LGBTQ + community in the country can tell about it. In the past few decades it has by no means unsuccessfully fought for the recognition of sexual minorities, has built up a lively club life, organized demonstrations, and established its own clubs and festivals. Nevertheless, the classic gender patterns still apply to the majority in South Korea. Coming out can be risky. It was not until mid-September that the human rights organization Human Rights Watch criticized the South Korean government in a detailed report for “ubiquitous” discrimination.

Byun Hee-soo’s case is an example of this. Her story tells of the fact that you can’t choose who you are.

Loss of the genitals leads to disability under military law.

In 2019, she performed the sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. South Korean authorities accepted the move. Byun Hee-soo officially became a woman. Your personal documents have been rewritten. Nonetheless, the army responded with the dismissal in January 2020. Reason: The loss of the genitals leads to a disability according to military law. Byun Hee-soo is no longer suitable for the army.

Byun Hee-soo gave a press conference a few days after he was released. She wore a uniform and a beret. She stood upright, as befits a soldier. With tears she told of her transformation. “It was an extremely difficult decision to let my base know my identity. But when I did that, I felt a lot better, ”she said. And she made it unmistakably clear that she could not simply give up her service to the fatherland. “Apart from my gender identity, I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country.”

The army denied their objection. She complained. LGTBQ + organizations supported them. But the psychological pressure must have been strong. “People knew her face, so she couldn’t get a job. That was bad for her, ”Lee Jong-geol, general director of the Seoul gay club Chingusai, told this newspaper shortly after her death. In March, Byun Hee-soo was found dead in her home in Cheongju. She was 22 years old.

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