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(LEAD) Army to decide on possible reinstatement of transgender soldier

All News 17:46 June 29, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead as session begins; ADDS more details, comments in paras 4-5)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- The Army held a personnel affairs committee session Monday to decide whether to reinstate a former noncommissioned officer forced to leave the military following sex reassignment surgery, officials said.

Byun Hee-soo, 22, filed the petition with the Army in February, after a military committee ruled the previous 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.

The petition review session took place at the Army Headquarters located in the central city of Gyeryong, which was also attended by Byun, an Army officer said, adding that the seven-member panel is to make a judgment after this session.

"But the decision will not be made public at least until it is delivered to Byun," another officer said. "We are supposed to notify the former officer of the result within 15 days."

Byun earlier said if the petition is rejected, she will bring her case to court, according to the Military Human Rights Center.

Byun 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, a noncommissioned officer, speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Jan. 22, 2020, after the Army's discharge review committee decided to discharge her by force as the officer underwent gender transition surgery.


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