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(LEAD) Transgender soldier files petition against discharge decision

All News 11:39 February 19, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS 4th para with fresh quote; ADDS more details in 6th para)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) -- A former noncommissioned officer forcibly discharged from the military after sex reassignment surgery has filed an appeal seeking reinstatement, sources said Wednesday.

Byun Hee-soo, 22, filed the petition with the Army Headquarters, the sources said, after a military committee ruled last month based on a medical examination that the staff sergeant is unable to continue to serve.

Byun underwent the transition surgery late last year in Thailand and has expressed a desire to keep serving in the military as a female soldier.

"In accordance with related regulations, Byun can raise such an objection within 30 days of the committee ruling, and it will take around three to six months before a judgment is issued," an Army officer said.

Earlier this month, Byun got a court-ordered recognition of gender change to amend her birth certificate.

If the petition is rejected, Byun will bring her case to court, according to officials of the Military Human Rights Center.

She was the first South Korean active-duty officer to have sex reassignment surgery while in service. 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 an effect on the overall rights of transgender South Koreans.

Byun Hee-soo, an Army noncommissioned officer, salutes during a press conference at the Military Human Rights Center in Seoul on Jan. 22, 2020, following the Army's decision to discharge her. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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