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Monday, October 24, 2005

Transsexuals Call for Equal Treatment

The Korea Times
By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

A 54-year-old who underwent a transsexual operation in 1992 looks no different than any other middle-aged man.

However, he has had difficulties at work and in his marriage because he is still a woman on the family register.

His application to change his registered gender from female to male was turned down by the court in 2003.

Lower courts dismissed the suit, saying that a masculine appearance does not determine a persons gender.

Recently, three transsexuals have brought their cases to the Supreme Court in their desperate bid to change their officially registered genders.

The court said that earlier next year, it will make a ruling, which will be a precedent for the top courts decision on transsexuals.

In 2002, a court permitted Harisu, a celebrity transsexual, to change her officially registered gender from male to female after having a sex-change operation.

A total of 81 transsexuals applied for changes to their gender registration between 2000 and 2004.

Among them, 41 transsexuals have been permitted to change their recorded gender.

Currently, there are an estimated 4,000 to 10,000 people in Korea with gender identity disorder, who believe they were born the wrong sex.

However, Han Chae-yoon, head of the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC), said that in Korea, their official genders, even after surgery, depend on judges decisions because of the lack of legal ground.

"Being determined a man or a woman in society can determine an individuals happiness over her or his entire life," Han told The Korea Times.

"It is nonsense for judges to decide ones gender at their own mercy in accordance with their tastes and values because of the absence of a relevant law," she added.

Lee Moo-sang, professor at the college of medicine at Yonsei University, said at a forum on transsexuals that people have been able to change their registered genders in Germany since 1980.

About 30 judges and medical experts on transsexual surgery took part in the forum held on Sept. 13.

In Korea, some lawmakers proposed a bill for transsexuals to have the right to change their registered gender in 2002.

However, a move to improve the rights of sexual minorities has hit a snag since the bill could not be passed in a regular session.

Han said that many transsexuals have continued to appeal to the authorities to get legal permission to change their official gender long before Harisu was allowed to change hers.

"For many years, transsexuals have struggled to change their registered sex in the courts. But the courts have not listened. The case of Harisu is just the tip of the iceberg among many transsexuals deprived of their right to happiness," she said.

Lee estimates that hundreds of people undergo sex change operations every year.

"Many transsexuals don't want to come out publicly and helplessly accept the courts decision without appealing to a higher court when they apply to change their registered gender," Lee said.

For that reason, there is no precedent in the Supreme Court since so many are reluctant to appeal, he added.

In 1996, a man who sexually assaulted a transsexual woman was not charged with rape because the victim was deemed by the court not to be a woman.

The court first allowed a transsexual to change the registered gender in Korea in July 2002.
Sweden was the first country to set up a law concerning transsexuals in 1972.

chungay@koreatimes.co.kr

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