SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Korea Bizwire) — The Army said Wednesday it decided not to allow a noncommissioned officer who underwent sex reassignment surgery to continue to serve in the military as a female soldier.
The decision was made in a military committee meeting that looked into the case of Byun Hee-soo, a 22-year-old staff sergeant who had transition surgery late last year and has expressed a desire to keep serving in the military.
Byun became the first South Korean active-duty officer to have sex reassignment surgery while in service.
“The committee made a discharge decision, as this case constitutes a reason that makes (the officer) unable to continue to serve under related laws, including the Military Personnel Management Act,” the Army said in a release.
Noting that the decision was made in accordance with due process based upon the results of a medical examination, the Army said it will “continue to make diverse efforts to protect human rights of service personnel and to prevent any undue discrimination.
Earlier, a military medical team declared that the officer a “disabled person.”
Currently, no specific regulations exist on how to handle cases of soldiers who have sex reassignment operations while in service.
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.
Those who change their gender are automatically exempted from this service.
Noncommissioned officers are volunteers, and the country has no rules prohibiting transgender people from entering the military. But chances are high such individuals would be eliminated through a physical exam, according to officers.
South Korea has no transgender soldiers, and the decision on the unprecedented case is expected to have ripple effects on the overall rights of transgender South Koreans.
Following the decision, Byun came out in public and held an emotional press conference before TV cameras, pleading for a chance to continue to serve regardless of gender identity.
“I am well aware that the military is not yet ready to accept transgender soldiers. … If the military properly assigns me based upon my unique experiences, however, it could create positive effects for the military as a whole,” Byun said.
Saying that she has long dreamed of being a soldier and has faithfully fulfilled her duty, Byun expressed her sincere hope for all sexual minorities, including herself, to be able to carry out duty without discrimination.
“I want to be a great precedent. Please allow me a chance. I am a soldier of the Republic of Korea.”