South Korea’s first transgender soldier, who was discharged from the military last year after having gender reassignment surgery, has been found dead in her home.
Byun Hui-su, 23, was found by emergency workers at her home in Cheongju, south of Seoul, on Wednesday after counsellors said they had been unable to contact her.
Ms Byun had been a top-rated driver in a tank regiment before being discharged from the military last year after undergoing surgery while on leave in Thailand.
Military leaders ruled at the time that she was suffering from ‘a physical or mental disability’, which also excluded her from serving in female regiments.
Ms Byun wept at a press conference last year after she was discharged – begging to be allowed back into the military and saying it had been her life’s dream to serve.
She subsequently filed a lawsuit against her dismissal with a hearing due in April this year, a spokeswoman for the Center for Military Human Rights Korea said.
The cause of her death was not made immediately clear, with police saying an investigation has been launched.
However, a spokesman for the National Mental Health Center where Ms Byun had been receiving treatment, said it seems that she had taken the decision to end her life.
Workers at the centre said they contacted emergency services after being unable to contact Ms Byun since February 28.
Firefighters were called her home around 6pm Wednesday and found her body ‘in a state of decomposition’.
Local media reported that Ms Byun had been receiving mental health treatment after a previous attempt at suicide three months ago.
Sergeant Byun had joined the military in 2017 as an officer after studying at a specialist military college, and became a tank driver.
There, she distinguished herself as one of the top-scoring drivers in her battalion.
But in November 2019 she made the decision to go to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery. Ms Byun said she had been struggling for many years about her identity.
She claimed that her superior officers were aware of her difficulties and had signed her leave papers knowing what she intended to do.
However, upon return to her regiment she found an investigation had been launched by top brass which ended in her dismissal.
South Korea’s military does not explicitly ban gay or transgender people from serving, but she was dismissed on mental health grounds.
A female soldier was previously dismissed in 2006 on similar grounds when she underwent a double mastectomy when cancer was discovered in one breast.
She successfully challenged the discharge.
Other gay soldiers say they have been targeted by military chiefs under a rule banning ‘sodomy’ – sometimes for consensual sex that happened off base, the LA Times previously reported.