First openly transgender soldier in South Korea found dead


Byun Hee-soo appearing at a press conference where she appealed to be allowed to stay in the army

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The first openly transgender soldier to serve in South Korea’s army has been found dead, according to news agency reports.

Police are currently looking into the cause of the death of Byun Hee-soo after emergency services found her body, who was forcibly removed from the military, at home in Cheongju, a town south of Seoul. It follows after a mental health professional called to report that she had made no contact since Sunday.

Previously, she had waived her right to anonymity to appear at a press conference, saying “I am a soldier of the Republic of Korea,” she told reporters. “Putting aside my sexual identity, I want to show everyone that I can be one of the great soldiers defending this country. Please give me the chance.”

She was discharged from the army after they deemed her gender reassignment surgery to have caused a mental or physical weakness.

The South Korean army has a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the army and Byun was the first officer to serve to have gender reassignment surgery.

A nearby mental health clinic reported she had attempted to kill herself approximately three months ago.

South Korean society has a conservative view of LGBT+ people, with gay, transgender and gender non-conforming Koreans hiding their sexuality and identity from public view.

All South Korean able-bodied men are expected to serve in the army thanks to conscription laws. They are meant to protect the country from the threats posed by neighbouring North Korea, which possess a nuclear weapon.

International LGBT+ rights groups have voiced concern for how South Korea treats recruits who are not heterosexual as currently they are forbidden to engage in same-sex relations with a 2-year prison sentence if caught doing so. This is not applicable to people who are not in the army.

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