DAEJEON/SEOUL, Oct. 7 (Korea Bizwire) — A court ruled Thursday in favor of a deceased transgender solider in a suit filed to get the Army’s decision to discharge her repealed, a landmark ruling that could have deep repercussions in the way South Korean society treats sexual minorities.
The Daejeon District Court said that the military should have considered late Ssg. Byun Hee-soo as a woman when reviewing whether she was fit for military duty after a sex-change operation.
“Since she applied for a sex change at a court and reported it to the military, she should have been considered as female when the military hospital checked whether she was fit to serve,” the court said in a ruling of the first known legal case involving a transgender soldier.
The former staff sergeant was discharged from the Army in January last year, as her loss of genitalia was classified as a physical disability under military law.
She underwent sex reassignment surgery while on leave in 2019, about two years after she voluntarily enlisted in the military.
“The decision on whether she was fit or not should have been made based on various factors, such as special circumstances of the military, basic rights of transgender people and public opinions,” it said, noting that the loss of genitalia was not a valid reason for her dismissal since she was a woman.
Soon after her dismissal, she appealed the decision and asked the military to allow her to keep serving as a female soldier, but the appeal was rejected.
In August last year, she filed an administrative suit against the decision with the court, claiming that her dismissal was unconstitutional.
She was found dead at her home in Cheongju, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, in March.
Under South Korea’s conscription system, all able-bodied men must carry out compulsory service for about two years in a country that faces North Korea across a heavily fortified border.
The Army said it “respects” the court’s ruling, adding it has yet to decide whether to appeal the decision.
“We will check the sentencing remarks and conduct a comprehensive review on future actions,” it said in a statement.
Byun’s supporters and advocacy groups welcomed the verdict, saying it will be “remembered in history as a sign of hope.”
They also demanded an apology from Defense Minister Suh Wook and urged the government to devise measures to protect the rights of sexual minorities.