Early March 2021, Korea’s first-ever transgender soldier, sergeant Byun Hui Su, was found dead in her home.
Sgt. Byun enlisted as a male officer in March 2017. Then in November 2019, she transitioned by undergoing male-to-female gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, while on leave from the military. Just two months following her surgery, Sgt. Byun was dismissed from the military, with the South Korean Army claiming she had mental and physical disabilities which made her “unfit to fulfill her duties.”
To mourn the loss of Sgt. Byun — and fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination still rampant in Korea, the nation’s activist organizations, like Jogakbo, gathered in Sinchon, Seoul for a “memorial act.” Jogakbo displayed the transgender pride flag in a large plaza central to the neighborhood…
…along with a “quilt” of supportive messages remembering Sgt. Byun.
With this act, Jogakbo shared that it aims to deliver the LGBTQ+ community’s “hope for a world without hatred and discrimination toward transgender people.”
To the Late Sgt. Byun,
You did so well, enduring everything. You tried your best and for that, we want to tell you that you’ve been nothing short of amazing. Thanks to you, we continue to put our feet forward to create an equal world.
From Another Shadow of Yours
Other activist organizations, like Rainbow Action and Equality Act, also gathered at the Seoul City Hall plaza to grieve Sgt. Byun’s death.
As part of this movement to push for equal rights for transgenders, Koreans sent support online by trending hashtags #힘을_보태어_이_변화에 (#AddingFuelToThisChange), #변희수_하사를_기억합니다 (#RememberingSergeantByunHuiSu), and #TransRightsAreHumanRights on Twitter too.
Meanwhile, following Sgt. Byun’s passing and her now-incomplete legal battle to undo the South Korean Army’s decision to dismiss her from her military service, the Ministry of National Defense’s spokesperson confirmed, yet again, the battle is far from over.
The Ministry of National Defense hereby shares our sincerest condolences for the loss of sergeant Byun Hui Su. We, however, are not currently discussing any changes to be made to the South Korean Army’s regulation regarding the service of transgender people.
— Moon Hong Sik, Spokesperson