She was declared unfit to serve in her country's army after having sex reassignment surgery, the first active-duty soldier to have such a procedure. Now, Byun Hui-su is dead, her body found Wednesday at her residence in Cheongju, South Korea, per the Yonhap News Agency. Emergency responders found the 23-year-old after a mental health center that had been providing counseling services to her couldn't contact her. The center says Byun had tried to kill herself a few months back, though it's reported no suicide note was found at the scene of her death. A local official tells the AP that the state of Byun's body suggests she'd been dead for a few days. The Guardian reports Byun joined the army in 2017 and went on to have gender confirmation surgery in Thailand in 2019, while on leave. When she visited a South Korea military hospital for follow-up treatment, doctors said she could be kicked out of the army, as she no longer had male genitalia and could be considered "disabled."
South Korea doesn't allow transgender citizens to join the military. Since she was booted, Byun, who'd been a staff sergeant and tank driver, had fought for reinstatement, petitioning the army and then suing after her petition was rebuffed. An initial hearing tied to her suit was set for April. "I want to show that I can be an excellent soldier who helps defend this country regardless of my sexual identity," she said during a presser after she'd been discharged, per the New York Times. "Please give me that chance." Byun had international support, including from UN human rights advocates, but it was an uphill battle in South Korea, a socially conservative nation. The military rejected Byun's reinstatement campaign, citing the "effects on personnel morale." A Military Human Rights Center of Korea rep says the group hopes she'll now get to be "with like-minded people in the next world where there is no discrimination and hatred." The military itself has expressed its condolences for her death. (Read more transgender stories.)