South Korea’s first transgender soldier, who was dismissed from the military for undergoing gender reassignment surgery, has been found dead.
Byun Hee-soo, 23, was found by firefighters in her home in Cheongju, south of Seoul on Wednesday Mar. 4.
The former staff sergeant had been receiving counseling, but when her counselor did not hear from her since Feb. 28, she called emergency services. The cause of Byun’s death is still unknown.
South Korea prohibits transgender people from joining the military but has no specific laws on what to do with those who have sex reassignment operations during their time in service.
Byun, who had gender reassignment surgery in Thailand in November 2019, was dismissed by the army in January last year, with officials citing a rule that allowed them to discharge personnel with physical or mental disabilities if they weren’t a result of combat or in the line of duty.
After the ruling, she had a press conference asking military leaders to reconsider their decision. “Regardless of my gender identity, I can protect this nation as a great soldier to this country. And I want to show this to everyone. Please give me a chance,” she said at the time.
The same month, she launched a landmark legal challenge against the military’s decision. But her request for reinstatement was rejected in July.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Byun had made an attempt to kill herself three months ago, citing officials.
No suicide note was found, and police are investigating her death.
The news has sparked an outpouring of anger and grief, AFP reported. A post on the country’s second-largest web portal read, “The whole of Korean society bears responsibility for her death.”
South Korea has a conscript army, in which all able-bodied men are required to serve for nearly two years.
Compared to its East Asian neighbors, South Korea still remains relatively conservative, especially towards the LGBTQ community in the armed forces.
International suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.