South Korean military officials have confirmed that they discharged their first known transgender soldier after she underwent gender reassignment surgery.
Staff sergeant Byun Hui-su is now pleading to be allowed to continue her service following the conclusion of the military panel that her procedure can be a reason for discharge, Time reports.
Byun’s case marked the first time that a military panel decided to end a soldier’s service due to a sex reassignment procedure. While there are currently no specific laws against soldiers undergoing sex reassignment during service, transgender people are prohibited from joining the South Korean military.
The army noted in a statement that due process was followed in handing out the decision, which it said was based on “a related military law on personnel changes.” The officials also cited a law that allows the military to “discharge personnel with physical or mental disabilities” if such conditions were not caused by combat or acquired in the line of duty.
Byun, who serves as a military tank driver, has since asked military leaders to reconsider their decision and allow her to serve as a female soldier.
At a news conference, she said that it was her childhood dream to become a soldier.
“Regardless of my sexual identity, I’d like to show everyone that I can become one of the great soldiers who protect this country,” an emotional Byun was quoted as saying. “Please give me that chance.”
Byun revealed that she suffered depression over her sexual identity prior to her decision to undergo a sex reassignment operation in Thailand back in November.
Proving her capability to serve, Byun noted that among her battalion staff sergeants, she ranked at the top in an official assessment of tank driving skills by getting the highest score.
Meanwhile, the Center for Military Human Rights leader, Lim Tae-hoon, also spoke at the same news conference, condemning the army’s legal justification for discharging Byun.
“I can’t resist feeling wretched at the military’s vulgar mindset,” the rights activist said.