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South Korea’s Military Discharges Its First Transgender Soldier

Staff Sgt. Byun Hee-soo told reporters after the decision, “I can protect the nation as an excellent soldier regardless of my gender identity.” PHOTO: The Wall Street Journal/Agence France Press/Getty

LGBT community viewed Sgt. Byun’s fate as a test case for the role of gay and transgender people in the conservative country

By Dasl Yoon | 22 January 2019

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL — A transgender soldier who enlisted in South Korea’s army as a man who wanted to continue serving as a woman after sex reassignment surgery has been discharged, with a military panel saying she had violated regulations.

The fate of Staff Sgt. Byun Hee-soo, who is in her 20s, was viewed by many in South Korea’s LGBT community as a test case for the role of gay and transgender people in the socially conservative country. Although the LGBT community has gained more acceptance in recent years, South Korea is still less tolerant than many other East Asian nations such as Taiwan, which last year legalized same-sex marriage, and Japan, which has elected its first openly gay lawmaker. LGBT people in South Korea continue to face widespread discrimination, according to human rights groups, with many choosing to live under the radar.

Their situation is especially difficult in South Korea’s armed forces. It is one of the few countries to still enforce conscription, which it uses to defend its borders against North Korea. Women can also choose to serve. […]

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