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(LEAD) Army rejects transgender soldier's appeal for reinstatement

All News 14:29 July 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 4-11)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, July 3 (Yonhap) -- The Army decided not to allow a former noncommissioned officer, who was forcibly discharged after sex reassignment surgery, to return to the military, officials said Friday.

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 Army held a personnel affairs committee session on the petition Monday, and Byun was notified of the result Friday.

"The discharge decision in January 2020 was legitimately made according to the medical examination standard and discharge procedures based on the current Military Personnel Management Act. No illegality was found with the discharge decision," the Army said in a statement.

In January, the Army said this case "constitutes a reason for being unable to continue service" due to mental and physical disabilities.

Byun earlier said if the petition is rejected, she will bring her case to court, saying she will challenge the decision "to the end."

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 that 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. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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