The first-ever transgender soldier of South Korea, Byun Hee-Soo (변희수), who was forced to discharge from the military, was found dead on Wednesday.
It’s truly tragic loss for the Korean queer community in the country. Locals are angered about this tragedy and are now calling for legal reforms.
It was reported that firefighters have found the 22-year-old soldier dead at her home in Cheongju, right after the Sangdang-gu National Mental Center contacted police to investigate the incident. According to the center representative, they couldn’t contact Hee-Soo since 28th February, believing that she may have killed herself during that time.
One of her neighbours claimed, “Police came to her house 3 months ago when she considered taking her life at the time. A bad smell has been coming from her home for some time now too”. Moreover, there wasn’t any suicide note found, and police are still investigating the root of her death.
Byun Hee-Soo, who was once a staff sergeant, enlisted voluntarily for the mandatory military service in March 2017. She then went on to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand just 2 years after she enlisted. Hee-Soo made history as the first active-duty soldier to have gender confirmation surgery.
Unfortunately, the defense ministry deemed her removal of male genitals as a mental or physical handicap. In early 2020, a military panel ruled that the 22-year-old would be discharged by force. Hee-Soo then filed a lawsuit against the military in August 2020, with the first hearing scheduled for 15th April this year. Due to South Korea forbidding transgender individuals from joining the military, this was not surprising.
Hee-Soo’s memorable words will still linger within South Korean society. The 22-year-old transgender stated proudly, “I’m a soldier of the Republic of Korea”. She also said, “Serving in the military had always been a childhood dream”.
She continued, “Putting aside my sexual identity, I want to show everyone that I can be one of the great soldiers defending this country” and begged for a chance to rejoin the military.
While South Korea is a developed country, it’s still a very conservative nation. Discussions about matters related to sexual identity or LGBT rights are hardly talked about as well. It’s also a country that’s less tolerable of LGBT rights compared to other parts of Asia.
Ever since the soldier’s death, citizens have expressed grief and calls for South Korean MPs to pass an anti-discrimination bill. A poster on South Korea’s second-largest portal Daum stated, “The whole of Korean society bears responsibility for her death”. He continued, “Those who ridiculed her and made malicious online comments because she was transgender, I want you to reflect on what you did to her”.
Following Byun Hee-Soo’s death, Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-Hyun, who started the trend of the #MeToo movement in the country after facing sexual harassment, expressed, “We could have saved her… We just had to let her live a life true to who she was”. She then demanded, “Right now anti-discrimination bill” on her Facebook account, to form another hashtag movement.
Asia in general still has a long way in gaining equal rights for sexual minorities, especially in Malaysia. If any LGBTQ+ members are currently facing rejection, outings, harassment, or any discriminatory matters related to their sexuality, we hope you’re able to reach out to other members in the community or anyone who accepts you.
It may be difficult, but please don’t give up your life because of ignorant people. We’re all here for you and the LGBTQ+ community! Here is a list of organisations you can visit to seek guidance. Please take care of yourselves.