Showing posts with label Gay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay. Show all posts

January 8, 2020

How Reynhard Sinaga , 'The Manchester Raper' Found His Man Victims'

Reynhard SinagaImage copyright

Warning: This piece contains accounts of sexual assaults.

Reynhard Sinaga is thought to be the UK's "most prolific rapist" ever. For several years, until he was caught in 2017, he preyed on young men enjoying a night out. 
Princess Street, in the heart of Manchester's city center, is rarely quiet.
If you follow it down from the impressive Victorian town hall on Albert Square, past bars, shops, restaurants, and converted textile warehouses, you reach the borders of two of the city's most popular destinations - Chinatown and the Gay Village. 
Beyond that, you come to a stretch of road bordered by nightclubs - Factory, Fifth, Joshua Brooks - a big part of the city's vibrant nightlife. 
With its close proximity to two of the city's universities, the road is also a popular area for student accommodation.  
Reynhard Sinaga, a 36-year-old postgraduate student, had made this his home for more than seven years, living in a rented flat just a few moments' walks from Factory Nightclub.
Sinaga, originally from Indonesia, was a perpetual student. He already had four degrees and was studying for a doctorate. By night he was a serial sex offender. 
He has been found guilty of drugging, raping and sexually assaulting 48 men, but police believe they are among at least 190 victims. 
They are able to be so precise about these numbers because Sinaga filmed his attacks and collected what detectives call "trophies" - items or information stolen from his victims. 
Sinaga typically approached his victims in the street. The rapist operated in a small area surrounding his flat. His targets were men mostly in their late teens or early 20s who had been out drinking, often in the nearby nightclubs.
Some were on their way home, others had become separated from friends.
Many were too drunk to remember their conversation with Sinaga, but for those who did there was no indication of a sexual motive. Sinaga used various pretexts to entice each to his flat.
Some victims could recall being provided with a drink and then blacking out.

Are you affected by this?

BBC Action Line has the support and more information on emotional distress
Greater Manchester Police said anyone who believes they might have been attacked by Sinaga can report information online or call its police line on 0800 092 0410 from inside the UK or 0207 158 0124 from abroad.
The force said anyone in need of support from specialist agencies could call 0800 056 0154 from within the UK or 0207 158 0011 from abroad.

Sinaga presented himself as a flamboyant, churchgoing academic who used the nickname "posh spice". A thin man of slight build and short stature, physically he appeared unthreatening. Several victims recall him smiling a lot. 
It was this apparent harmlessness that enabled Sinaga to pose as a "good Samaritan", coaxing men he approached back to the flat. 

Map of central Manchester

We know about the benign impression Sinaga created because dozens of victims gave testimony to police, with 48 of them appearing in court over the course of four trials.
Of the victims who went to court, the vast majority were heterosexual. Ian Rushton, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said he thought Sinaga took "a particular pleasure in preying on heterosexual men".
Most of his victims were living in Manchester at the time and, in all, 26 were students when they were attacked.
Their accounts explain how Sinaga operated.
One was waiting for his girlfriend outside Fifth Avenue nightclub - since renamed Fifth Manchester - when he was approached by a "small Asian guy" who seemed harmless.
The man was invited back to Sinaga's flat to wait for his girlfriend but recalled nothing further after being given a shot of clear liquid to drink.

Reynhard Sinaga FACEBOOK
Image captionReynhard Sinaga

Another man described being "approached by a young Asian gentleman". He said he had a "vague recollection of explaining that my phone was dead and that I was trying to get a taxi but the taxis were passing me".
He added: "I think I can recall a conversation along the lines of, 'Would you like to come inside and charge your phone and have a quick chat,'" he told the court.
To him, Sinaga "didn't seem like an imposing character" and during their conversations in the apartment, he appeared to be "an honest, motivated person" with an interest in academic research.
The man told the court that soon after being offered a drink, he couldn't remember "a single thing until the next morning".
After waking, confused and disoriented, he left within five minutes.
Like almost every victim, he had no idea he had been raped until being approached by police.
Another victim remembered his friends putting him in a cab outside a club. His next recollection was waking up in a strange apartment.
When he asked Sinaga what had happened, he described providing care and shelter after finding him lying in the street.
Another victim believed Sinaga had been "really nice and had looked after him".
One victim, a teenage university student, managed to get Sinaga's mobile number as a precaution after waking up in the flat, and then having concerns that something might have been stolen from him.
When he rang to ask for more information about what happened, Sinaga described himself as a "good Samaritan" who had found him unconscious on the pavement.

Reynhard Sinaga's flat
Image captionReynhard Sinaga's flat

Another man remembered waking up on the floor, covered in a blanket, before thanking the flat's occupier for letting him stay over.
He suspected nothing, even though the person "refused to give me personal details" in order to assist with an insurance claim for a lost mobile phone.
The phone, like many others stolen from their owners, was later recovered from Sinaga's home by police.
Some victims felt incredibly unwell after regaining consciousness, sometimes naked and covered in vomit.
Unknown to them at the time, Sinaga had given his victims a drug - almost certainly GHB - which rendered them unconscious before he assaulted them.

What is GHB? 
  • Class C prohibited drug - colorless and odorless liquid or powder, usually dissolved in water
  • Generates feelings of euphoria in very small doses; in only slightly larger amounts can cause unconsciousness and death
  • Used by clubbers and in so-called "chemsex"; also frequently implicated in sexual offenses
  • Thought to account for thousands of hospital admissions each year, but statistics on its misuse remain sketchy
  • Between 2007 and 2017 more than 200 deaths were linked to the drug; since 2014 it has been named as a murder weapon in five cases
  • Closely related to GBL, a colorless liquid that sold is an industrial cleaner and converts to GHB in the body. GBL is only classed as Class C prohibited drug when knowingly intended for human consumption 
  • One victim, who woke up naked on Sinaga's floor feeling nauseous and panic-stricken, came to the conclusion he had been drugged, telling his fiancé about that suspicion but not about the condition in which he awoke. 
Another man, who was told he could sleep on the floor, recalled waking twice during the night, on one occasion to be sick.
He remembered that on one of the occasions he was unable to move his arms and could feel himself being penetrated, before passing out again.
In the morning, he briefly spoke with Sinaga before leaving. He did not report what happened to the police, until being approached by them.

It was the largest rape investigation in UK history.
Police found more than 100 of the men from clues in Sinaga's flat. But the identities of 70 men have not been established and police are now appealing for anyone who believes they may be abused by Sinaga to come forward.
The CPS's Ian Rushton says that Sinaga is probably the most prolific known rapist "anywhere in the world". 
One of four children, Sinaga comes from a wealthy Indonesian family who lives in Depok, a city within the Jakarta metropolitan area. His father is a prominent businessman in the palm oil sector.
After obtaining a degree in architecture at the University of Indonesia in Depok, he moved to the UK in 2007 to study urban planning at the University of Manchester.
He went on to gain three degrees there before embarking on a doctorate in human geography at the University of Leeds - traveling there from Manchester when required. 
His family wealth meant that he rarely worked, although he claims to have had stints in employment in hospitality at both Manchester football clubs and in a clothes shop. Manchester United have since said they have no record of him working at the club. He worked for a period at a bar in the city's Gay Village, the area where he spent much of his time socializing. He was also a regular at a local church.
After originally living in student accommodation, Sinaga moved to a rented flat in Montana House on Princess Street in 2011. 
While his convictions cover a period of two and a half years, police believe his offenses predate 2015. But they say they may never know the true extent of his crimes. 
It came to an end in the summer of 2017.

CCTV footage from outside the Princess Street flat CCTV footage of Sinaga near his flat

Sinaga was offending with abandon, sometimes night after night. In footage recovered from CCTV cameras covering his block of flats, he is seen leaving one evening only to return with a man 60 seconds later. 
It was just after midnight on 2 June 2017, when he approached his final victim.
A teenager, who left The Factory nightclub to get some fresh air after becoming separated from friends, agreed to go to Sinaga's flat after it was suggested he could try to contact them from there.
The man recalled nothing further until waking several hours later being sexually attacked by Sinaga.
He immediately pushed Sinaga away, who responded by screaming "intruder" and "help", before repeatedly biting the teenager.
The man hit Sinaga several times, escaped from the flat, and then called police, who arrived to a chaotic scene.
Sinaga, who was discovered semi-conscious with serious injuries, was at first viewed sympathetically, and the teenager was arrested for assault.

Princess Street flat E
Image captionCCTV footage of Sinaga near his flat

But Sinaga's behavior in the hospital began to arouse suspicion. He kept asking officers to have a mobile phone brought to him from his flat. 
Police asked him to confirm the pin number before they would hand it over. However, Sinaga gave a series of false numbers, then tried to grab the phone after providing the correct one.
The officer became so suspicious that he seized the phone as potential evidence and, when it was checked, a video recording was found of Sinaga raping the arrested teenager.
It was the start of what the officer overseeing the investigation, Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain, calls "an absolutely unprecedented case".
He says the inquiry has been like "piecing a jigsaw together without the picture".
Another of Sinaga's mobiles had somehow ended up in the pocket of the final victim.
Between them, the two phones had been used to capture about 800 videos of Sinaga raping or sexually assaulting unconscious men.
The victims, usually snoring loudly, were often repeatedly raped over several hours. 
In some of the films, Sinaga is seen to forcibly hold men down who, though unconscious, were visibly distressed or made attempts to push him away. In others, victims are seen to vomit while being attacked.
To find the men, detectives used both the films and "trophies" collected by Sinaga - phones, watches, ID cards from their wallets, images that Sinaga had downloaded from their social media profiles, searches about them he conducted online.
When they lacked identifying information, investigators tried facial recognition technology, approached local universities, and asked other police forces around the UK if they knew any of the men.
Officers also considered whether Sinaga might have killed any of his victims with fatal drug overdoses, examining potential links to unsolved deaths or missing people, but there was no evidence to suggest this was the case.
When officers made a positive identification, that person would be approached and told he had been a victim of sexual offenses.


Lisa Waters, of the St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre, says their crisis workers accompanied detectives on these visits in order to "offer immediate emotional and practical support".
She says that being told what happened "can be quite overwhelming, very confusing".
"What we didn't want to do was to drop the bombshell and then just disappear and leave these men with no support," she says.
A large program was put in place to provide ongoing support.
Waters says many of the men have chosen not to tell anybody else about what happened to them.
"That might be because they might want to protect their own psychological health; it might be because they're ashamed to tell other people; it might be because they're fearful of other people's responses," she says.
Dozens of those approached did not want to go through the court process.
Sinaga was found to have told unsuspecting friends about some of the rapes, passing them off as consensual sexual conquests.
In messages about the first victim who went to court, Sinaga boasted about the attack on New Year's Eve in 2014.
"I didn't get my new year kiss, but I've had my first sex in 2015 already," he wrote, adding that the man was "straight in 2014. 2015 is his breakthrough to the gay world hahaha".
During another boast about what he presented as his prowess with "straight" men, Sinaga wrote: "Take a sip of my secret poison, I'll make you fall in love."
Police officers have spoken to other men, tracked down as a result of still images discovered in the flat that date from before 2015. These men recall being there, but not what happened. There is no other evidence available to show that they were sexually assaulted.
Only one previous report to police was linked to Sinaga after his arrest, dating from April 2017, when the victim had woken disorientated and unwell in a strange room with an Asian male. 
He quickly left, but later that day had flashbacks of being sexually assaulted and - two days afterward - he called the police.
However, the man was unsure of the property in which he had been assaulted, meaning inquiries focused on two nearby hotels, neither of which had had any guests who matched the suspect's description.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Sinaga pleaded not guilty to all 159 charges, forcing a series of four trials in which his victims had to give evidence and jurors had to watch hours of distressing videos.
Court rules meant that nothing could be reported in the media and each jury was unaware of the wider case against him.
Sinaga gave evidence in the first and last of the trials, running what the judge called a "ludicrous defense" which involved him claiming that each victim had agreed to fulfill his "sexual fantasy" by being penetrated while being filmed and pretending to be asleep.
When this scenario was suggested to one victim in court, he responded by saying it was "absolutely farcical".
Sinaga changed his story during the trials.
In the first trial, he denied that the loud snoring heard in some films was snoring at all, insisting it was just "breathing sounds".
But, by the time of the final trial, he claimed the snoring was actually just "role-play".
It was only halfway through the first trial that he admitted penetrating most of the victims on that indictment.
In the witness box he came across as vain and self-absorbed, telling jurors: "I make myself available all the time… I may look like a 'ladyboy' and it seems very popular amongst curious men who are looking for a gay experience."
When entering and exiting court he often appeared cheerful, as if he was enjoying the process.
In the absence of the jury, the judge repeatedly asked defense counsel whether any of the evidence could be agreed, to spare jurors watching every video.
But Sinaga would not agree and, because he insisted each victim was conscious and consenting, the videos had to be played to demonstrate this was a lie.
The prosecution case was that Sinaga used the drug GHB to incapacitate his victims.
No trace of the drug was found in his apartment and - due to the circumstances of Sinaga's arrest - the final victim was not tested quickly enough for its presence to be established.
However, the symptoms shown by the hundreds of videos were all consistent with GHB intoxication, as were the descriptions of him providing clear liquid shots, and each trial heard expert evidence about its effects.
GHB was used by Stephen Port, who murdered four men between June 2014 and September 2015. The men were given fatal overdoses of the drug. Port was also convicted of raping or assaulting several living victims using GHB.

The impact on Sinaga's victims is vast.
Waters says that "some of the men have found it very difficult to function in everyday life".
This has resulted in substance misuse, people unable to go to work, students unable to finish university, and others having to leave home after feeling unable to function any longer within their families.
She adds that "some men have been suicidal and we've had to try to help them come to terms with that and how we can make them safe".
Dr. Sam Warner, the author of a report about the psychological impact on Sinaga's victims, says a loss of power coupled with an absence of memory can be "extremely frightening, disturbing, upsetting because that goes to the heart of how you make sense of yourself, how you understand your experiences".
"In a situation where people have been incapacitated through drugs they may have no flashback to that particular event," she says.
"What they will have is the flashback to being told, however sensitively done, because suddenly they become a rape victim at that point."
She says the stress and trauma "may continue throughout people's lives".
In a series of statements read in court, the men themselves described the impact.
"I felt numb. I was totally shocked, embarrassed, betrayed and very angry," one said.
"His actions were disgusting, unforgivable. He has massively abused my trust in humanity."
Another man said: "I want Sinaga to spend the rest of his life in prison. Not only for what he has done to me but for what he has done to the other lads and the misery and stress he has caused them."
A further victim said: "I remember the day the police contacted me, it is a day I will never forget because it changed my life forever."
Another: "I wish the worse for him, I want him to feel the pain and sufferance I have felt. He has destroyed a part of my life."
Throughout all four trials, Sinaga displayed not a glimmer of empathy or contrition.
His persistent smile, so often used to comfort and disarm, was instead revealed to be a mark of his cruelty.
In a message to Sinaga, one victim said: "I'm not going to let you ruin my life."

May 12, 2019

Bishop Removes Dutch Priest After Attacking Gays in His Homily

Featured Image
Bishop Gerard de Korte of Den Bosch, Netherlands
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Friday, (LifeSiteNews) — Father Marc Massaer will be leaving his present parish in the diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, by the 1st of July. His removal is seen by many as a consequence of a strongly worded sermon he gave last December 26, speaking out against gender ideology and same-sex unions. Fr Massaer has published the news of his departure himself on his parish website on May 7, explaining that he has accepted Bishop de Korte’s suggestion that he leave Sint-Christoffel in West Maas en Waal on short notice. His new destination is as yet unknown.
While the priest himself has not underscored the link between his removal and his “controversial” homily (from the Dutch mainstream point of view), it is certain that he has gone through a period of confrontation with his parishioners, the Catholic members of eight former parishes he has led alone for the last eight years when a “super-parish” was formed, due to a dearth of priests and faithful in the formerly heavily Catholic south half of the Netherlands.
Hostilities were opened following the “Second Day of Christmas,” as it is called in Holland: a public holiday when many nominal Catholics who seldom go to church are wont to join Mass. Fr Massaer was celebrating in one of “his” eight parish churches, in Walen. 
In this case, the daughter of a local choir member had come back to her home town for Christmas and joined Mass on the 26th. Ceciel Kalkers was shocked to hear the priest condemning “the indoctrination of gender ideology.” He said it “is radically opposed to the order of creation, and it promotes that what is not Catholic.” “This is a boomerang that will head back towards humanity,” he said, with all its “negative consequences,” she wrote two weeks later in an open letter to the local newspaperDe Maas en Waler.
She added another quote from the sermon from memory: “Only ‘holy families’ (man-woman-child) could bring peace and harmony.”
Her letter went on to speak of her “sadness,” thinking about “two good homo friends, a homo-couple with a newborn child.” “I hardly know anyone nicer.  Weren’t these people welcome?” she said. And so her text went on, deploring the priest’s tone, his “condemnations,” his lack of “inclusion.”
Kalkers tried to speak to Massaer in the sacristy, but he had already left. The following day, she called him over the telephone, and was again shocked to hear that he was standing by his words. “People should start thinking, because they have fallen asleep,” he said, according to Kalkers.
Challenged about the “hurt” such words could cause to homosexuals, she said Fr Massaer added: “A man with a man is no lifestyle. We can’t make the wrong things right just by talking. As a Church, we have a right to say what is right and what is wrong. Every human being stands before a choice, and I want them to think about that.”
“So orientation is a choice, according to Fr Massaer,” angrily wrote Ceciel Kalkers. She was even more indignant when she heard him add: “You’re really going against the order of creation and then you’re just sinning. Sins don’t fit with the Christian lifestyle. I condemn what is wrong.”
Shortly after this letter was published, the governing board of the parish of St. Christopher reached out to the diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch), whose bishop, Gerard de Korte, is known for his openness to the “LGBT community,” having even accepted to open his cathedral for the local “Pink pride” a few years back before being forced to back down
According to the regional press, the board’s move was dictated by anger at the “gay-unfriendly” sermon of Marc Massaer, although the no details were given. Its vice president did tell De Gelderlander that the board was “not happy with the impact of the homily.”
The newspaper compared Massaer’s words with the Nashville statement condemning homosexual acts. At the time in the Netherlands, the statement was being picked up and signed by local evangelicals, amid furious media reaction. Some of them even received death threats at the time.
De Gelderlander wrote on May 7 that Massaer’s sermon had triggered “a storm of outrage, also among parishioners and volunteers.” Now Massaer is being moved to other pastures.
Talks took place between the parish governing board and the diocese, according to the newspaper: “It is not clear whether Massaer’s departure is a result of those talks. No one at the diocese or in the parish is prepared to answer requests for comment.”
Even if his new nomination was on the cards, reactions to his sermon are sufficient to show how difficult it is in a deeply paganized country such as the Netherlands to proclaim the full Catholic truth.
Local media noted that Massaer “keeps himself strictly to church rules.” “Last summer he banned a nonreligious choir from singing at the funeral of a parishioner,” noted De Gelderlander. But even that liberal daily was obliged to acknowledge that under Massaer’s guidance, not one of the eight churches of the joint parish of West Maas en Waal has been shut down.
Facebook comments called the priest an “Inquisitor” and a “freak.” 

February 20, 2019

Growing Up Gay in Poland Could Make You an Activist We Hope It Will!

Photo: Pawel Maczeweski

This article originally appeared on VICE Poland

Growing up, I felt embarrassed to say I was from Poland. Equality and tolerance are fairly foreign concepts in my country, especially when it comes to gay people. Now, though, I realize that the bad experiences I had growing up are what have driven me to fight for the future of Poland.

I was born in Poznań, a city of around 1.4 million people; my family lived on the outskirts of town for about ten years before we moved away. I often go back to see my grandparents, visit my favorite anarchist bookstore, ZEMSTA (Revenge), and to attend the annual Potato Festival. I do love potatoes.

I was in Year 6 when I realized I was gay. When I came out to my mum, she replied, "Oh yeah, I know." It was a bit harder for my father to accept – though, eventually, he was fine with it. My family life seemed to go a lot smoother after I came out to my parents.

Unfortunately, life wasn't so easy at school. For the longest time, it felt like my strict primary school in Poznan was focused on teaching me ways to avoid discovering myself or the world. The school focused heavily on patriotism and gender norms. Watching my male friends trying to chat up girls – especially the way the guys seemed to force themselves into the girls' lives – just looked violent to me. Since coming out at school didn't seem like an option, I decided to get a girlfriend, and even maintained a relationship for half a day.

Soon after my short-lived faux-romance, I came out publicly, and from there my life became very hard. I was attacked and beaten up badly – a reminder that, in Polish society, it's rarely a good idea to stray from the perceived norm. Luckily, my mother removed me from that school.

In Warsaw, I went to an amazing multicultural high school named after Jacek Kuroń – a former opposition leader in the People's Republic of Poland. My new classmates insisted on always reassuring me of their tolerance – some would even go as far as saying they had always wanted to meet a gay person. I understood that by assimilating in this way I risked becoming their token gay friend rather than just being a normal person who happened to be gay.

Before moving to Warsaw, I'd probably read about four books in my entire life. But thanks to my new school's broad curriculum I was introduced to amazing works on sexuality, history, and revolution. Access to a wide range of reading materials taught me about activism and ways we can fight for a society that operates differently. Those books didn't offer a way for me to escape the outside world; it was the complete opposite – they were tools I could use to define myself within my community and country and raise my social awareness. I didn't feel so alone anymore.

One of my teachers got me into philosophy, and I was later invited to take part in the Philosophy Olympics – a national philosophy competition that has been running for 30 years, offering the winners academic support if they choose to study the subject further. As part of the competition, I wrote a critique of the anti-Marxist philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. To my complete shock, I was selected as one of the winners. We were invited to an event where the former mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz, would be handing out the prize. The problem was, the mayor had never shown any support towards the LGBTQ community; every year she was invited to Warsaw Pride, but she never accepted. For the first time in my life, I was presented with a real opportunity to use my platform to speak out on an important issue.

My initial plan was to disrupt the ceremony by wearing a balaclava and waving a rainbow flag, but my philosophy teacher was right to talk me out of that plan – though I still intended to be heard. So when I got to the microphone at the ceremony, I turned to the deputy mayor – Hanna hadn't shown up – and explained that, as a gay person who studies and pays taxes in this city, and who will soon be working, I wouldn't feel right accepting an award from someone who hasn't shown any interest in protecting the interests of the gay community. 

I'm now studying at the University of Warsaw (UW), where a group of far-right campaigners turned up one day on campus to hand out fascist propaganda. In response, some friends and I created the Student Antifascist Committee.

These elements have always been in our country – it's just that the current ruling party, the right-wing Law and Justice, has given license to other fascist movements. My friends and I were determined not to allow bigotry to spread at our university. 

Our committee is working to fight all instances of hate crimes that take place at UW, starting with denouncing the fascist literature that was spread across campus and blocking the leader of the far-right National movement, Robert Winnicki, from speaking on campus. The government wants to tighten the anti-abortion law so we will oppose the introduction of any pseudoscience into curriculums that aims to support their efforts. We're ready to blockade faculties and campuses and shut down the whole university if needed.

Still, we need to reach out to more like-minded people at UW and educate them on why they should be engaged and how to organize. Traditionally, Polish politics is boring, alienating and often repugnant. It was what I grew up with all those years ago in Poznań, trying to fit in in my ultra-conservative school. Today, my friends and I are trying to offer a true alternative that will change Poland and the world.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

September 7, 2018

Gay and All Alone in Vietnam

By Sen  

'A friend of mine committed suicide after I abandoned him for him confessing his homosexuality to me.'
Shocking, poignant stories were narrated at an unusual event hosted recently by the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Storytelling Contest on LGBTQI issues, involving members of the community as well as their families and friends, was part of a series of mini-events supporting Viet Pride.

Viet Pride is an annual event that focuses “on celebrating the freedom of love and personal expression, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Most of the 23 contestants who participated in the event were 15-25 years old. Some sat alone, some surrounded by friends and families. Some looked cheerful, others looked nervous.

But when the storytelling began, people bared their souls and shared their anguish.

Tran Duc Bao, who won the first prize in the contest, shared how his name was modified to mock him. His friends and classmates called him Bao Duc, the initials of which fit the pronunciation of “Bê đê”.

“Bê đê,” originating from “Pé dé,” a French slang for homosexual, is a derogatory term widely used to attack gays in Vietnam.

“I used to bite my pillows in tears,” Bao said.

Bao was a natural on stage, which was a winning element in his presentation, apart from his story. He demonstrated how he walks, according to his haters: pelvis out, shoulders back, a limp wrist, hips swishing from side to side. This was obviously a deliberate exaggeration because Bao’s gait is nothing like the stereotype.

The 17-year-old student questioned the modern-day freedom that does not grant him the freedom to be himself.

Tran Duc Bao, first prize winner at a Saigon storytelling contest on LGBT issues, shares his story of being discriminated for being gay. Photo courtesy of US Consulate General

Tran Duc Bao, first prize winner at a Saigon storytelling contest on LGBT issues, shares his story of being discriminated for being gay. Photo courtesy of US Consulate General

'More normal'

Another contestant, Vu Hoang Thanh Trang, did not suffer any discrimination.

She was the discriminator.

When her friend confessed that she liked her, Trang reacted in a shocking way that silenced her friend and drove her away. When Trang managed to apologize, her friend broke to tears and the two embraced each other.

“I wish I was more normal,” her friend said.

Trang has since been accompanying her friend on her journey to find herself, providing her the mental support she needs. In the process, Trang has become a pillar of support for many other friends who face the thorny challenges faced by all LGBTQI individuals. She invited others around her, including the audience present, to expand their horizons on sexual orientation.

“Society cannot change immediately. If we can only inspire 3-5 people, that is okay. We are here, we can fight the stigma. We will make a difference, one mindset at a time,” the 18-year-old said.

A ‘made-up’ story

Among many captivating stories, one by Ngo Thanh Triet stood out.

A Vietnamese student in Finland who calls himself “a gay guy who likes make-up,” Triet’s attempt to boost his self-esteem backfired quickly.

“I felt judgmental eyes on me from everyone around me because of my make-up.”

And this was happening in Finland, a country far more progressive and empathetic towards LGBTQI appearances and rights than many countries, including Vietnam.

Then, something else happened.

“One time, when I was at a bar, there were two girls sitting not so far from me.

“They were looking in my direction, with their hands covering their mouths as they spoke, and I realized they were talking about me.”

The women ended up approaching Triet, and asked him a question he did not expect: “What highlighter do you use?”

It hit Triet then that he does not really know what people think of him – his own negative thoughts were wreaking havoc.

“So why do I stress myself about what others think of me?"

Ngo Thanh Triet shares his story at the contest. Photo courtesy of the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City

Ngo Thanh Triet shares his story at the contest. Photo courtesy of the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City

Misunderstanding, cruelty

Despite the upbeat nature of several stories, the pain caused by a society that discriminates against them was evident.

At another LGBT event hosted by the U.S. Consulate General last month, Doctor Nguyen Tan Thu and psychologist Mia Nguyen addressed common misunderstandings and responses that causes more suffering.

“To cure homosexuals, doctors injected hormones into them. If that does not work, they were subjected to electric shocks, either on top of their head, arms, or sexual organs,” Thu said.

There was one gruesome method the doctor mentioned that sent shivers down the audience’s spine: corrective rape. The term was coined in South Africa after numerous rapes of lesbians. Perpetrators claimed that the act would transform the homosexual victim into heterosexual.

Thu categorically stated that all the abovementioned conversion therapies do not change the sexual orientation of “patients.”

An openly gender queer person himself, Thu is an ardent activist for LGBTIQ rights. He is now a consultant for Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) where he provides counseling and HIV test referrals for men who have sex with men (MSM).

Boi Nhi, a freelance actress and health consultant at My Home Clinic, a LGBTQI-friendly clinic that welcomes patients who are afraid to go to public and private hospitals, spoke openly about her predicament.

She said that hormones used by transgender individuals are not regulated in Vietnam. “Transgenders like me who use these hormones are not protected by law,” Nhi said. Homosexuals who want to become transgenders often look up to those who have already had sex reassignment surgery and seek their advice on hormone use, the actress said.

“We have no idea what these pills contain. Because the Ministry of Health does not inspect and supervise these hormone pills, we as transgenders have to resort to advice from successfully transgendered people for medical advice and support so that we can eventually find ourselves just like they did,” Nhi said.

Mia Nguyen, a psychologist who has worked with the LGBTQI community for over a decade, told VnExpress International that sex reassignment surgery was not covered by health insurance in Vietnam. In contrast, in Australia, where she has worked since 2007, counselling and hormone therapy for people undergoing the surgery are covered by health insurance. She hoped that the operation will soon be covered by health insurance in Vietnam.

Vietnam is regarded highly in the region when it comes to supporting LGBTQI rights. It scrapped the ban on same-sex marriage in 2014. However, the nation’s laws does not recognize nor protect gay couples.

Harsh attitudes at home remain one of the toughest challenges facing Vietnam’s LGBT community.

Ending it all

“My friend committed suicide after I abandoned him for him confessing his homosexuality to me.”

When Bui Quang Nghia’s friend came out of the closet and confided in him, Nghia cut off contact. He did not answer texts or phone calls. And before he could realize how much hurt he had caused by shunning his friend, it was too late. The friend overdosed on sleeping pills.

Nghia did not cry, but the pauses in his storytelling were pregnant with grief.

Nguyen Khanh shared another dramatic story about a friend of his.

He seemed to have everything anyone could want. He was intelligent, sociable, ambitious and had an excellent education funded by his family. But there was something inside that had been eating him up for a long time – his unorthodox sexual orientation.

As Khanh spoke, a picture of a railway track appeared on the screen.

“He stood there, one step away from death. He wanted to end it all. Do you think he jumped?”, he asked, and the audience tensed up.

Nguyen then took a symbolic step back and said with a smile, “Fortunately, he did not. Because he is me.”

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