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South Korea’s first transgender soldier found dead in her home


South Korea’s first transgender soldier, who was discharged from the military for undergoing gender reassignment surgery, has been found dead at her home on Wednesday, 3 March.

The cause of death of Byun Hee-soo, a transgender rights campaigner, is not yet known.

She launched a landmark legal challenge against the military in January last year over her dismissal.

Her petition for reinstatement was rejected in July.

South Korea remains conservative on matters of sexual identity.

The 23-year-old had been receiving counselling from a mental health centre in her home province of Gyeonggi, north of Seoul. Her counsellor became concerned after not hearing from her since 28 February and called emergency services.

Ms Byun’s case triggered debate about the treatment of transgender troops and soldiers from the LGBTQ community in the country.

She previously told reporters that apart from her gender identity, she wanted to show everyone that she could also be one of the great soldiers who protect the country.

All able-bodied South Korean men are required to carry out military service for nearly two years.

In December, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea said the decision not to allow her to continue to serve in the military had no legal grounds.

South Korea is far less tolerant of the LGBTQ community than its East Asian neighbours.

Being LGBT is often seen as a disability or a mental illness, or by powerful conservative churches as a sin, and there are no anti-discrimination laws in the country.

In Ms Byun’s case, anti-LGBT campaigners had attempted to identify her online. They also held demonstrations urging the military to dismiss her after news about the case emerged and have called for further demonstrations.


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