Family of tragic South Korean trans soldier vow to continue her fight for justice ‘at any cost’

Maggie Baska
·5-min read

The family of South Korea’s first trans soldier has vowed to continue her legal fight against the army.

Byun Hee-soo was discharged from the army after undergoing gender affirmation surgery in January last year. She was a staff sergeant and tank driver in the Gyeonggi province, north of Seoul, before her dismissal.

Byun then launched a landmark legal challenge against the South Korean army over her dismissal, but this was rejected in July.

But, tragically, Byun was found dead at her home earlier this month. The exact cause of her death is still unknown, but police have said they do not expect foul play was involved.

The Korea Herald revealed that, before her death, Byun had been talking to her legal team and the courts for a date on her continuing legal battle against the army. It was always Byun’s wish to return to military service.

Now, Byun’s family has said they will press ahead with the lawsuits. According to Yonhap, Byun’s attorneys and family announced on Wednesday (10 March) they would be applying for succession of the lawsuit to “fulfil her dream (of serving the country as a transgender soldier) by winning the legal battle at all costs”.

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The Trans Liberation Front shared a picture of a press conference announcing the “Joint Countermeasure Committee for Sergeant Byun Hee-soo’s Reinstatement and Honor Restoration”, which will fight for fulfil Byun’s last wishes.

The tweet, attributed to the CEO of the Trans Liberation Front Kim Wo-myeon, also said the “moment I stepped into the funeral [for Byun]… I said that something was wrong with the world”.

In August 2020, Byun filed an administrative suit against the army’s decision to dismiss her with the Daejeon District Court. She claimed her dismissal was unconstitutional as South Korea’s constitution doesn’t allow for any type of discrimination, including depriving public status due to “personal identity”.

The first court hearing for her reinstatement was set to take place next month.

The attorneys said during a press conference in Seoul that they plan to cite the family’s rights to claim Byun’s wages from the army as grounds for the application. Courts in South Korea do allow families of the deceased to take on lawsuits if they could gain economic benefits.

The LGBT+ community in South Korea is paying tribute to Byun and other members it lost this year.

Byun’s death came shortly after the suicide of another South Korean activist, Kim Ki-hong, in February.

There was a memorial service for Byun over the weekend which took place in front of the South Korean ministry of defence. LGBT+ activist and drag queen Heezy Yang shared images from the service on Twitter.

Yang said: “Despite the short period [of] preparation and promotion time, a lot of my friends, activists and citizens came out.”

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The pictures show a multitude of messages written in honour of the late soldier as well as mourners holding candles and trans pride signs.

Seoul-based freelance journalist Raphael Rashid also shared images from the memorial service. She wrote: “Citizens have come out to pay their respects to late Byun Hee-soo, a soldier who was forcibly discharged from the army after undergoing gender confirmation surgery and classified as ‘disabled’.”

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The Trans Liberation Front also shared an image of a lone South Korean trans activist who is staging a single-person protest outside the Ministry of Defence. The protestor has stood outside the government building for two Sundays in a row now (7 and 14 March).

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During the second week of protests on Sunday (14 March), the group tweeted: “The Trans Liberation Front is also holding a one-man demonstration today.

“‘The state killed her, hate is murder.

“Stop killing us, we want to live too.'”

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