A transgender soldier in South Korea says he will sue the army after he fired her for violating regulations after her sex change.
Byun Hui-soo, 22, joined the army as a man, but underwent gender reassignment surgery last year after suffering from gender dysphoria and mental health problems.
He accused the military of “deeply rooted intolerance” of sexual minorities.
South Korea remains conservative in terms of sexual identity.
Ms. Byun’s case has led to a debate about the treatment of transgender soldiers, as well as those of the LGBTQ community in general.
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All South Korean men without disabilities are required to perform military service for almost two years.
What did Byun Hui-soo say?
During an emotional 45-minute appearance, the sergeant said he wanted to remain in the army after his operation, which took place in Thailand in November.
“I will continue to fight until the day I can remain to serve in the army. I will challenge the decision until the end, before the Supreme Court,” he said.
He had not planned to undergo gender reassignment surgery, he said, but doctors recommended doing so in a military hospital where he was sent after suffering from mental health problems. They arose from gender dysphoria, defined as anguish over the internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to inform my base of my identity, but once I did, I felt much better,” he said.
“I thought I would finish serving in the army and then go through transition surgery and then go back into the army as a female soldier. But my depression became too severe.”
Byun said he did not expect to be forced to leave the army. Her senior officers had visited her in the hospital and had been discussing where she would be redistributed after her treatment, she said.
They suggested that it could become a role model for LGBT people in the military.
“In addition to my gender identity, I want to show everyone that I can also be one of the great soldiers who protect this country,” he added.
What did the army say?
In their ruling, the military said the case “constitutes a reason for not being able to continue the service.”
A spokesman for the defense ministry told the AFP news agency that the soldier had been tested in a military hospital, which classified the loss of male genitalia as a mental or physical disability. That prompted a review of the panel of its service. The army has no regulations governing the service of transgender soldiers.
The military statement added that it was determined to avoid “discrimination and unfair treatment.”
But Lim Tae-hoon of the Military Human Rights Center said Ms. Byun’s dismissal was unusual because it was effective the day after the decision was made. They are usually effective after a period of up to three months, he said. He suggested that the army did not want Ms. Byun to have contact with her unit, Lim said.
An army official who was aware of the case told the Reuters news agency that there should be no reason for the military to deny Ms. Byun if she again requests service in the female body after legally becoming a woman .
How are attitudes towards transgender people in South Korea?
In South Korea, being LGBT is often seen as a disability or mental illness, or by powerful conservative churches as a sin, and there are no laws against discrimination in the country.
In the case of Ms. Byun, anti-LGBT activists tried to identify her online. They also made demonstrations urging the military to fire her after news about the case emerged and called for more demonstrations.
Human rights groups that have assumed their cause have been accused of staining the image of the military.
However, Hyung Eun Kim of the Korean BBC says that the rise in events such as LGBT parades shows that attitudes in the country are changing, albeit slowly.
Human rights groups have also previously expressed concern about the way in which South Korea treats gay soldiers. They are prohibited from engaging in sexual contact and may face up to two years in prison if they are caught. Gay sex is not illegal in civil life.
Where in the world can transgender soldiers serve?
They could do it in the United States, until President Donald Trump banned certain transgender people from the army. The ban was confirmed by the Supreme Court last January, although legal challenges have continued in lower courts.
The policy prohibits “transgender people who require or have gone through a gender transition” to provide their services.
Trump announced on Twitter in 2017 that the ban was necessary due to “tremendous medical costs and disorders.”
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There are almost 9,000 transgender troops on active duty, say nonprofit groups.
The measure reversed the Obama administration’s policy that ruled that transgender Americans could openly serve in the military and obtain funds for gender reassignment surgery.
In the United Kingdom, transgender people can openly serve in the military. Last June, a former transgender army officer received a medal for services rendered to the LGBT community in the army.
Other countries to allow transgender people to serve openly include many countries in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel and Bolivia.