On Thursday, the Korean Army said the NCO in question, who served as a staff sergeant in a unit located in northern Gyeonggi, received gender reassignment surgery in Thailand during official leave in November last year.
The NCO’s unit said it detected the soldier was struggling with gender identity around July and then filed for leave, but it did not find out about the surgery until the NCO visited a military hospital in December, where a medical officer diagnosed the officer in question as having gender dysphoria.
Class 3 disorders can warrant discharge from the military.
After the unit learned about the surgery, it recommended that the NCO resign prematurely from service. The law governing the status of persons in the military – the Military Personnel Management Act – stipulates that deliberate damage done to one’s body can also warrant discharge.
The NCO, however, refused an early discharge, filing to complete the remaining year of a three-year service as a noncommissioned officer in the military in a female brigade.
For support and to press the military to allow continued service, the officer sought help from the Center for Military Human Rights Korea (Cmhrk), a private civic group.
The news of the staff sergeant’s transition has incited controversy, with many officers claiming the staff sergeant in question should be removed. The Army is already under scrutiny after another NCO stole around 400 million won ($345,000) and fled to Vietnam on Monday.
Korea’s Ministry of National Defense exempts males facing uncertainties over their gender identity from mandatory conscription, classifying such cases as disorders.
Same-sex relationships are also criminalized under military law, which has led human rights groups like Amnesty International to criticize Seoul for institutionalizing discrimination against sexual minorities in the military.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea also recommends that military criminal law be revised to end such discrimination.
To pressure the military to grant the NCO’s request to continue service, Cmhrk’s director Lim Tae-hoon held a press conference in western Seoul on Thursday.
Citing that the U.S. military allows people who have transitioned to continue service, Lim said there was little medical basis for a person to be regarded as incapable of military service because of gender reassignment surgery, which he said many officers currently serving in the military were considering.
“Staff Sergeant A is a young soldier who has great loyalty to the nation and the people and who loves the military above all,” Lim said, referring to the NCO. “We urge the military to demonstrate it has turned over a new leaf by allowing Staff Sergeant A to continue service.”
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, LEE CHUL-JAE AND LEE KEUN-PYUNG [[email protected]]
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