S. Korean Army discharges transgender soldier who requested to continue serving as a female

Posted on : 2020-01-22 16:48 KST Modified on : 2020-01-22 16:48 KST
Military commission proceeded with review despite delay request from human rights commission

On Jan. 22, a military commission under the South Korean Army decided to discharge a transgender soldier who requested to continue serving as a woman after transitioning from male to female. On the previous day, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) announced that it had made an urgent recommendation to the Army Chief of Staff Suh Wook to postpone the military commission’s review of the discharge of an active-duty non-commissioned officer who recently received gender reassignment surgery while on leave in Thailand.

“Regarding the request for urgent assistance to delay the inquiry into the non-commissioned officer who received gender reassignment surgery, we decided to go ahead with the urgent intervention in accordance with the National Human Rights Commission Act,” the commission said. “We have recommended to the army chief of staff that the inquiry, which was supposed to begin on Wednesday, be delayed by three months in compliance with inquiry rules and regulations regarding human rights violations and discriminatory acts.”

The staff sergeant, identified as “K”, had requested for her discharge inquiry to be postponed until her legal gender had been changed in court, but the army refused. K received gender reassignment surgery while on leave in Thailand last year and, upon returning to Korea, declared her wish to continue serving as a woman. During a mandatory military medical assessment following her return to her unit, she was classified as having a level 3 mental impairment, at which point she was referred for the discharge evaluation. The civic group Center for Military Human Rights Korea (CMHRK) applied to the NHRCK for urgent intervention on Monday.

“There is no specific legislation or precedent regarding people who transition during active duty. There is a probability that classifying the result of gender reassignment surgery as a physical handicap and referring it as a cause for a discharge evaluation may classify as a discriminatory act. We therefore have concerns that a discharge resulting from a discharge evaluation held on Jan. 22 could do irreparable harm,” the human rights commission said, regarding their intervention.

On Tuesday, the army human rights center released a comment welcoming the intervention from the NHRCK, stating, “We hope the army won’t stain its reputation by chasing away a transgender woman simply because she lacks the male sexual organ.”

Despite the NHRCK’s recommendation, however, the military commission proceeded with its review and decided to discharge the staff sergeant on Jan. 22.

“The commission determined that according to the Military Personnel Management Act, the staff sergeant is unqualified to continue serving,” the South Korean Army announced.

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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