Military wary of lifting transgender ban despite court ruling

Asia's Tech News Daily

Military wary of lifting transgender ban despite court ruling
(Yonhap)Despite a court ruling in favor of a soldier who was forcibly discharged after she received gender reassignment surgery, the military is still cautious about crafting a transgender policy because it is not ready to deal with the issue, military officials said Tuesday.

In January 2020, Byun Hee-soo, who was the country’s first known transgender soldier, was dismissed from the Army, which found her mentally and physical unfit to serve because she had her male genitals removed. Byun filed a lawsuit against the decision, but died by suicide in March this year.

“We’re all in uncharted territory here, trying to figure out what to do next with the court ruling. I can see why people on the outside could read that as reservation,” a military official said.

The military, which bans transgender people from serving and has no specific rules on individuals who undergo sex reassignment surgery after joining the military, has not opened debate on the matter since Byun’s death in March, when the defense minister said the military needed to think about transgender people.

Its reluctance to act relates to the prospect of an appeal, another military official said.

The Army chief Gen. Nam Young-sin told the National Assembly last week that he would consider many factors before taking the case to the appeals court, making it clear he still stood by the decision to have dismissed her.

“I can see why the military wants a second opinion on this case, regardless of whether or not the military could reverse the ruling, because scrapping the transgender ban would be a major shift in military policy,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum.

But Kim Borami, an attorney who represented Byun, said it would be not only pointless but inhumane for the military to drag the case through appeals. Kim says it would force her family to relive trauma over a case that was a straightforward win for Byun.

The court ruled that Byun was a woman and the military should have used standards applied to women, not men, to determine her fitness. The court added that the government and the Assembly should put in place rules to handle transgender soldiers who have sex reassignment operations while serving.

“As a lawyer, I’m not worried about losing an appeal because the military doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But Byun’s family would have to endure the ordeal, the discrimination her daughter had to fight,” Kim said.

The Army described Byun as a potential subject to curiosity by fellow service members if she were to continue serving and that allowing her to stay on would have others see their rights curtailed because they would have to make sacrifices for Byun.

“This isn’t even legalese. It’s venting,” Kim said.

She urged the military to think hard before appealing the case because it would have to repeat the same line of reasoning.

“What worries more is that no one would take the fall for pushing through appeals while Byun’s family would relive trauma,” Kim said, adding the best course of action for the military now is to follow through on the ruling and start discussing what exactly to do with transgender people and soldiers.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)

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