South Korea’s first transgender soldier found dead

Transgender soldier

South Korea’s first transgender soldier, Byun Hee-Soo, has been found dead in her home.

Byun Hee-soo, 23, was forcibly discharged after having gender reassignment surgery.

Firefighters found her in her home in Cheongju, south of Seoul, after a mental health counsellor called emergency services to report that she had not been heard from since Sunday, the news agency Yonhap reported on Wednesday.

Police are investigating her death, it said.

Byun, formerly a staff sergeant, enlisted voluntarily in 2017 and went on to have gender confirmation surgery in 2019 in Thailand.

The defence ministry classified her loss of male genitals as a mental or physical handicap, and a military panel ruled in early 2020 that Byun would be compulsorily discharged.

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South Korea prohibits transgender people from joining the military, and Byun was the first active-duty soldier to have gender reassignment surgery.

Byun had previously waived her anonymity to appear at a press conference at the time to plead to be allowed to serve, wearing her fatigues and saluting the gathered journalists and cameras.

“I’m a soldier of the Republic of Korea,” she said, her voice breaking. Serving in the military had always been her childhood dream, she said.

“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 that chance.”

The local mental health care clinic said Byun made an attempt to kill herself three months ago.