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18 Mar 2013

Genital surgery no longer required for transgenders to change legal gender status: Korean court

Transgender people in Korea can now change their legal gender status without undergoing genital surgery, a court in Seoul ruled last Friday.

In a landmark case, a Seoul court has ruled that persons who are transgender and have had their internal reproductive organs removed will no longer be required to undergo surgery to alter the appearance of their external sexual organs to be legally recognised as being their new gender.

Harisu, whose real name is Lee Kyung-eun, is Korea's most well known transsexual pop singer, model and actress. In 2002, she became only the second person in South Korea to legally change their sex.

Last Friday Seoul Western District Court ruled in favour of accepting requests from five female-to-male transgender individuals to have their family register listing altered to be classified as male. None of the five has undergone operations 

The Hankyoreh newspaper reported that the Seoul Western District Court ruled in favour of the five female-to-male transgender individuals who sought to have their family register listing altered to be classified as male. The five men who have not undergone surgery to alter their external sex organs argued that the legal demand for transgender people to have genital surgery to conform to their new gender status was the main barrier which violated the spirit of the legal gender modification system, which is to guarantee the Constitutional rights of transgender people.

"One of the five, identified by the initial 'K,' was born with a female body, but started identifying as male when he was a teenager. In the 1990s, he underwent surgery to remove his breasts and uterus and began taking male hormones, leaving him with a thick beard, deep voice, and stocky build. He has lived with his wife for the past two decades, but he has not gone through the final step of the sex change, namely surgery on his genitals. Not only is the procedure dangerous, with a high risk that it will require multiple operations, but it also costs the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars."

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender people could alter their legal gender status but according to guidelines for approval the Court drafted the following year, the individuals who wanted to have their new genders recognised have to have "external genitalia" that matched their new genders.

While it's considered progress for transgenders in Korea, the reequirement for transgenders to have their reproductive organs removed in order for the state to recognise their gender identity is in fact forced sterilisation. 

Until January this year, forced sterilisation is compulsory for people undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Sweden who wanted their sex change to be officially recognised by authorities. 

In December last year, a Swedish court ruled that the practice of forced sterilisations, which dated back to a 1972 law on sexual identity, was unconstitutional and violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling was not appealed, and a ban therefore entered into force on January 10.

Some countries including the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Spain do not require individuals to undergo sterilisation or gential surgery as a condition for altering one's legal gender status.

While in Asia, transgender people in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan are only officially recognised after undergoing complete sex reassignment surgery.

Korea (South)

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-03-19 11:29  
Wow this is quite shocking for such a conservative Christian country.
Comment edited on 2013-03-22 09:02:09
Comment #2 was deleted by its author on 2013-03-28 17:29
3. 2013-03-28 17:30  
Korea is no more conservative. Korea has a good LGBT community .
4. 2013-04-03 17:00  
Quite interesting court rule... It is one of the most conservative and very closed countries for LGBT people even though gay and transgender entertainers are being aired in TV. Circumstance changes gradually.. Good..
5. 2013-11-30 08:33  

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