Showing posts with label Viet-Nam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Viet-Nam. Show all posts

February 14, 2020

"My Teacher Told Me I had a Disease" LGBT School Children in Vietnam


(Bangkok) – Pervasive myths about sexual orientation and gender identity in Vietnam contribute to violence and discrimination which is felt strongly among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 65-page report, “‘My Teacher Said I Had a Disease’: Barriers to the Right to Education for LGBT Youth in Vietnam,” documents how LGBT youth in Vietnam face stigma and discrimination at home and at school over myths such as the false belief that same-sex attraction is a diagnosable, treatable, and curable mental health condition. Many experience verbal harassment and bullying, which in some cases leads to physical violence. Teachers are often untrained and ill-equipped to handle cases of anti-LGBT discrimination, and their lessons frequently uphold the widespread myth in Vietnam that same-sex attraction is a disease, Human Rights Watch found. The government of Vietnam should fulfill its pledges to protect the rights of LGBT people.
“The government of Vietnam has indicated support for the rights of LGBT people in recent years, but the tangible policy change has lagged,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “LGBT youth are especially vulnerable due to inadequate legal protection and widespread misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The report is based on in-depth interviews with 52 LGBT youth as well as teachers and other school staff in Vietnam. It analyzes existing government policy and planning documents and pledges the Vietnamese government has made to improve the situation of LGBT people.
Inaccurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity is pervasive in Vietnam and has a particularly harsh impact on youth. While Vietnam has several laws that prohibit discrimination and uphold the right to education for all children, the current national curriculum and sex education policy fall short of international standards and do not include mandatory discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. While some teachers and schools take it upon themselves to include such lessons, the lack of national-level inclusion leaves the majority of students in Vietnam without the basic facts about sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch found.
Thuong, 23

When Thuong was a teenager, she wondered why she felt attracted to other girls. She searched for information online, asking “why does a girl like another girl?” and found a website that said it was possible for boys to love boys and girls to love girls. She was relieved. Then in college, she told another girl for the first time that she liked her. The girl told their classmates what Thuong had said, and they started telling Thuong she was “sick.”
© 2020 Sally Deng for Human Rights Watch
“I’ve never been taught about LGBT,” Tuyen, a 20-year-old bisexual woman, told Human Rights Watch. “There are very few people who think that this is normal.” A school counselor said “There’s a lot of pressure on kids to be straight. It’s constantly referenced that being attracted to someone of the same sex is something that can and should be changed and fixed.”
In a promising step in 2019, the education ministry, with the assistance of United Nations agencies, produced guidelines for an LGBT-inclusive comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, but such a curriculum it has not yet been created.
Human Rights Watch found that verbal harassment of LGBT students is common in Vietnamese schools. Students in various types of schools – rural and urban, public and private – said that students and teachers commonly use derogatory words to refer to LGBT people, sometimes targeted directly at them and coupled with threats of violence.
Other studies, including research by UN agencies and Vietnamese groups, have included similar evidence. In a 2014 report, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) noted: “[E]ducation institutions are not safe for LGBT students due to the lack of anti-bullying and non-discrimination policies. Furthermore, sex and sexual orientation and gender identity education is still limited in Viet Nam and are considered sensitive topics that teachers usually avoid.”
While it appears to be less common, some LGBT youth report physical violence as well. “[The bullying] was mostly verbal but there was one time when I was beaten up by five or six guys in eighth grade just because they didn’t like how I looked,” one person interviewed said.
In cases of both verbal and physical abuse, the school staff responds inconsistently. The majority of the LGBT youth interviewed who had experienced bullying at school said they did not feel comfortable reporting the incidents. This was sometimes because of overt, prejudiced behavior by the staff. In other cases, students assumed that it was unsafe to turn to the adults around them for help.
Even in cases in which students did not face verbal or physical abuse, many reported that their families, peers, and teachers implicitly and explicitly alienate and exclude them. This occurs in classrooms, where teachers refer to anything other than procreative heterosexual relationships as “unnatural,” as well as at home, where parents threaten their children with violence, expulsion, or medical treatment if they are gay or lesbian.
In 2016, while serving on the UN Human Rights Council, Vietnam voted in favor of a resolution on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, saying “The reason for Vietnam’s yes vote lay in changes both in domestic as well as international policy with respect to LGBT rights.” Other governments in Asia have recently changed their policies to include and protect LGBT youth, including JapanCambodia, and the Philippines.
“The government’s stated alignment with a global shift toward respecting the rights of LGBT people signals some political will to make much-needed law and policy changes,” Reid said. “Protecting young people from violence and discrimination and ensuring their education is based in fact instead of prejudice is an important first step.”

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.”

June 26, 2015

As the Clock ticks at the Supremes, the US Fights for Gay rights in VietNam

 U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, right, and his husband, Clayton Bond,

Read more here:

As U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius deals with geopolitical concerns like China’s island-building efforts in the South China Sea. But the personal can also be political when Osius introduces his husband, Clayton Bond, and speaks of their adopted children.
“We are here to celebrate family. Family is acceptance. Family is love,” Osius told a cheering throng at a U.S.-sponsored festival last week to promote the cause of gay civil rights across Southeast Asia. 
With the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans the last major outstanding case to be decided this term by the U.S. Supreme Court, some gay rights activists are saying that even a defeat would do little to slow the global momentum of their cause in part because of Obama administration policies -- and diplomats like Osius.
As a same-sex couple with children in diapers, Osius, 54, and Bond, 38, are in the vanguard of the civil rights movement known as LGBT -- shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. 
The Obama administration has pressed the LGBT cause internationally since a 2009 speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she declared “gay rights are human rights.” 
While an anti-gay backlash has grown in the Arab world, Russia and many other nations, the cause of gay rights has made strides globally that once seemed implausible. Voters in Ireland, a Catholic nation, recently endorsed same-sex marriage. Osius is pressing for greater LGBT acceptance in Vietnam, where the first gay pride parade took place four years ago.
Two years ago, the authoritarian government here decriminalized same-sex unions and is now considering broader LGBT issues. The nation has proven receptive to the ambassador’s unconventional family, said activist Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute of Social Studies, Economics and Environment.
“Their beautiful family strikes down many stigmas,” Binh said. “They excite many people, especially youth, to accept differences and respect other people’s choices and rights. Above all they inspire LGBT communities for fight for their rights.”
Osius, a career foreign service officer who helped open the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi in 1995 and is fluent in the language, is one of six openly gay ambassadors appointed by Obama, including one as a special envoy for human rights of LGBT persons. That’s five more gay ambassadors than the one each who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Of the current six, all but Osius were political appointees from outside the foreign service. 
Osius also championed gay rights within the State Department. When he entered the foreign service in the mid-1980s, the discovery of homosexuality would result in the revocation of security clearances. Many careers had been ruined before Osius and some colleagues founded a group known as Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. In 1993, the State Department dropped discriminatory policies while, with greater attention, the Clinton administration applied the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mantra to the military.
Change came in fits and starts. When Clinton nominated Hormel Foods heir James Hormel as envoy to Luxembourg, Republican senators angrily refused to consider him, and Hormel ultimately assumed the post on a recess appointment. A few years later, when openly gay career diplomat Michael Guest was named ambassador to Romania, gays were impressed that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell introduced Guest’s partner with the respect accorded a spouse.
But when Guest retired in 2007, he pointedly criticized Powell’s successor, Condoleezza Rice, on the issue of benefits for same-sex couples. Guest said he “felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner -- who is my family-- and service to my country.”
It was at a Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies gathering in 2004 that Osius first met Bond, who had come out a few years earlier at age 24. Two years later, they were married in Canada.
While Osius has a broad portfolio of concerns, Bond, who is on leave from the State Department and is working toward a law degree, has assumed the role of unofficial LGBT ambassador. 
Their family reflects diversity in other ways: Osius is white, Bond is African-American and their 19-month-old son and 3-month-old daughter are Latino.
The children are biological siblings. Bond said they were adjusting to life with an infant son when they received word that the boy’s birth mother was again pregnant and wondering if they’d consider a second child. 
Bond said they hope to set an example. On a recent day at the U.S. ambassador’s official residence in Hanoi, he proudly watched as workmen replaced the familiar signage on foyer restrooms from men and women to a new symbol for “gender neutral” -- an image that depicts a figure divided vertically with a skirt on one side and pants on the other. 
“It makes me so happy,” Bond said. “This is all about affirming people’s dignity.”

Read more here:

February 7, 2015

In Little American Saigon Communist is a hateful slur but not necessarily the word Gay

 40 years and the Vietnamese flag still Waves and the American is also there

Communist Vietnam has lifted a gay-marriage ban, but it can be a difficult subject to broach in Little Saigon

The rose oolong tea steamed on the table as regulars at the Little Saigon cafe debated politics, border disputes and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris — a running conversation in French and Vietnamese.

Then a man who had been listening to Radio Free Asia spoke up. "Brother, did you hear about Vietnam abolishing its ban on gay marriage?"

Silence enveloped the cafe.

In Vietnamese American community, 'communist' still a hateful, and expensive, slur
Gay rights and same-sex marriage are difficult conversations for those in the nation's largest and most prominent Vietnamese American community. Though attitudes are shifting among younger people, many — particularly those who fled South Vietnam as it fell to the communists — cling to what they call "the old ways."

"We remember the Vietnam of our childhood, when behavior like this is not allowed in public and you don't mention it inside or outside the home," said Cuong Manh Nguyen, 80, of Westminster.

It's ironic to some here that Vietnam — a communist nation that expatriates say shows little regard for basic human rights — has become the first Southeast Asian country to lift its ban on same-sex marriage.

The government abolished regulations that "prohibit marriage between people of the same sex" and canceled fines that had been levied on same-sex couples but stopped short of giving legal recognition to such unions.

The move is expected to bolster tourism by making Vietnam appear a more accepting country, insiders say.

"The government's move is a very positive sign that tolerance and understanding is developing," said Nguyen Anh Tuan, owner of Gay Hanoi Tours based in Vietnam. He said gay tourists from the U.S., northern Europe and Asia represent a large number of the travelers booking trips to Vietnam.

Abolishing the same-sex marriage ban is also an attempt to show progress on human rights, according to experts.

The government's move is a very positive sign that tolerance and understanding is developing.
- Nguyen Anh Tuan, of Gay Hanoi Tours
Phil Robertson, the Bangkok-based deputy director of Asia for Human Rights Watch, said Vietnam deserves credit for deciding to no longer treat LGBT people "as criminals for expressing their love." Still, he said, Vietnam continues to violate human rights "with alarming frequency."

Gay-rights advocates in Little Saigon, meanwhile, have spent years battling for equality.

After organizers barred a group of LGBT activists two years ago from marching in the annual Tet Parade — a celebration of the arrival of the Lunar New Year — protesters stood along the parade route in Westminster, waving signs and rainbow flags. Several politicians made a point of stepping away from the festivities to join them.

Interesting question, whether Viet Nam is courting world opinion and tourists, or whether the winds of change from its young people is paralleling what is happening in America and Europe. Certainly we hope it is the latter. 
Last year, organizers again told the group it could not participate. But they relented amid political pressure and the prospect of losing parade sponsors.

"I think we were the catalyst for a lot of change in community politics," said Hieu Nguyen, chair of Viet Rainbow of Orange County. The group's constant lobbying to get into the parade, Nguyen said, convinced some people to at least listen and consider their message of unity.
"Our leaders in this community must look at the younger generation and realize that there are different forms of diversity," he said. "The community is multilayered. We don't just have one political theme, we don't just vote one way. We have many identities and voices."

Back at the coffeehouse, the conversation continued.

Philip Phan, a Westminster salesman with three children, said he sees room for compromise but is unwilling to accept same-sex marriage.

"My kids tell me, 'Daddy, it's normal. We're old enough to understand these things and to be open.' But I tell them that no — it is not normal," said Phan, 54.

"What I believe is that in the course of life, we may come to accept this kind of marriage. But to legalize it? No way. To bring that kind of marriage to a church? To a temple? Or a courthouse? No, no way."

The customer sitting next to him, a former political prisoner in Vietnam, warned LGBT tourists to be wary if Vietnam rolls out the welcome mat.

"Don't believe anything these liars say or do," he said. "One day, any man is free to marry. The next day, he'll be locked up."

Phuong Nguyen, the owner of the shop, stayed out of the conversation.

"This is a gathering place for all kinds of talk," the mother of two said.

She emerged from the kitchen, where she had been cooking shaking beef platter, a house favorite.

“In every community, there should be a spot where people feel free to be themselves."

January 27, 2015

Something Strange is Happening at HO CHI MINH CITY-Gay Marriages, Quietly but Legally


In the past few months, Tang Ai Linh has noticed something new whenever she is logged on to Facebook: a lot more people have been posting photos and stories from gay weddings.
Vietnam has not legalized same-sex marriage, but a new law effectively decriminalizes it, putting Vietnam at the vanguard of gay rights in Southeast Asia. Many in the LGBT community interpret this as tacit permission for, at least, the ceremonial aspects of matrimony. Gay couples have responded by resuming nuptials, which had been on hiatus after repeated headlines about local officials breaking up gay weddings.
The 2000 Law on Marriage and Family explicitly banned marriage between people of the same gender. Other regulations, now repealed, allowed for fines of up to 500,000 dong ($24). Local authorities used these rules to disband wedding parties, sometimes for bribes, sometimes out of homophobia.
“But for some officials, it is not about the money,” said Linh, who has been with her wife for 14 years. “They do it just because they want to cause trouble for us.”
The updated marriage law, which took effect January 1, deletes the ban but says, “The State does not recognize marriage between people of the same sex.”
Confusion sets in
The ambiguity has caused some confusion among gay Vietnamese.
Nguyen Tan Phat is seen with his partner Le Hoang Minh (Photo - Sith Zam for VOA)Nguyen Tan Phat is seen with his partner Le Hoang Minh (Photo - Sith Zam for VOA)

“I don’t understand,” said Nguyen Tan Phat, who runs a photography and design company with his boyfriend. “The government doesn’t ban, but doesn’t recognize gay marriage, so what does that mean we can do? It’s really unclear.”
The revisions don’t confer new legal rights on gay people, but are seen as a mostly symbolic indicator of the direction Vietnam is heading. In contrast to conservative policies in nearby Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, leaders in Hanoi have surprised the world with their rapid embrace of the gay movement. Pride rallies have gone ahead with official sanction, while gay marriage has been actively debated among legislators.
Tran Khac Tung, director of the gay rights group ICS, said the government is even inviting gay rights organizations like his to law-drafting sessions, legitimizing them as an interest group during the policymaking process.
Observers say the reasons for this sea change - and for hopes that Vietnam will be the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage - are self-reinforcing. To begin with, religious lobbies are frequently the most vocal opponents of gay marriage in many countries. But in Communist Vietnam, religious lobbies are largely blunted.
The second factor, according to advocates, is that unlike other human rights, authorities do not see same-sex marriage as a threat to their hold on power.
Lobbying for change
Because authorities mostly didn’t interfere with the LGBT community, advocates saw an opening. Tung said that just about every official he has spent time with has come around to supporting their cause.
Groups like ICS have also made strides in media coverage of and attitudes toward gay people; their success has attracted foreign and other funding, which has bolstered the lobbying efforts at the national level.
FILE - Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) share a moment during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) event on a street in Hanoi, October 27, 2013.Something Strange Hapenning on HoFILE - Newly married same-sex couple Tran Ngoc Diem Hang (R) and Le Thuy Linh (2nd R) share a moment during their public wedding as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) event on a street in Hanoi, October 27, 2013.

The lifting of the gay marriage ban is just the latest sign of this success.
“I don’t think there’s so much that’s changed, except that it sends a message to the public of the position of the government, that it’s moving to more acceptance and tolerance of the LGBT community,” Tung said.
He said the growing support from parents, the media, and the public overall “creates pressure” for the government to act.
“The same sex issue has been raised before,” Tung said, “but nothing happened because there was no backup from society.”
That’s no longer the case . Not unlike the United States, Vietnam appears to be on a path toward allowing same-sex marriage.
The new law this month marked just a small step down that path, but Phat said he was happy when he heard about it on Facebook.
“This is good news for the community,” Phat said. “I’m seeing that people are more open, more relaxed. In the past, coming out to family was really hard. But now it’s like a revolution, things are changing so fast.”

April 19, 2014

Vietnam Leading the Way in Gay Rights

Leading the Way: Vietnam’s Push for Gay Rights


Ngan and Huong have been together for 10 years. Although both are originally from the countryside, each moved to the more liberal Ho Chi Minh City for university. It was here, over an iced coffee between lectures, that they first met.
“We realized there was a spark straight away,” Ngan, aged 31, says. “It was like everything suddenly clicked into place.”
After secretly dating for a year, both eventually summoned the courage to come out to their respective parents. Ultimately, a lack of understanding from loved ones forced the couple to move in together in 2005. But despite living together for the last nine years, their relationship isn’t recognized under Vietnamese law.
This could all change come May, when Vietnam’s National Assembly concludes two years of deliberation on amendments to the Law on Marriage and Family. Legislators are set to make national history by enshrining into law provisions acknowledging the existence of gay couples for the first time. Although the government withdrew an option on marriage equality last year, the National Assembly may end up removing its current ban on gay marriage.
These developments have delighted and shocked gay rights advocates and made Vietnam a surprising torchbearer for LGBT issues in Southeast Asia. This is particularly remarkable when you consider that until 2000 it was illegal for gay couples to even live together.
“We were really surprised [the Communist Party of Vietnam] were putting LGBT issues on the agenda for public consultation,” says Mr. Huy, the legal officer at Vietnam’s peak social research body, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE).
“It just shows the incredible progress that has been made in this area, even if it is less about providing rights for LGBT couples and more about making a legal headache go away.”
The legal headache that Huy is referring to would be the courtroom battles that have played out between separating same-sex couples. The judicial system has been flummoxed when it comes to resolving disputes over child custody, property and inheritance when there are no laws even recognizing the possibility of same-sex couples.
The nation’s judiciary demanded that the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) provide guidance on how to resolve these disputes. The opportunity arose during the Ministry of Justice’s review on the Law on Family and Marriage, which Vietnam’s legislative requirements stipulate must be revisited every ten years.
Behind the scenes, there has been tussle within the CPV over how to respond to gay rights issues. There is general consensus that the country’s Ministry of Justice and, to a lesser extent, Ministry of Health have been the most progressive. In 2012, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong spoke in support of same-sex marriage saying it was “unacceptable to create social prejudice against the homosexual community.
Observers say the most vigorous opposition has come from the Vietnamese Women’s Union, which perceives same-sex marriage as a threat to traditional family ideals. But the biggest challenge for the gay rights campaign is perhaps the most difficult: overcoming the status quo.
Homosexuality remains a taboo topic in the largely Confucian Vietnam and even some gay rights advocates accept that it may be too soon to legislate for marriage equality. Thuan Nguyen, Director of Hanoi’s LGBT Inclusive Business Development Initiative, argues the focus needs to be on changing traditional Vietnamese attitudes first.
“Many still believe it’s a mental illness or something to be ashamed of,” Thuan says. “And it was taken off Vietnam’s official list of mental illnesses in 2001.”
In 2002, Vietnam’s State-run media were describing homosexuality as a “social evil,” a description that was controversially rebuffed by a communist youth newspaper when it declared that “some people are born gay, just as some people are born left-handed.” A survey published in 2011 found that 87 per cent of respondents thought that homosexuality was a transmittable disease.
The first nationwide survey into public attitudes towards LGBT issues was published just two weeks ago. It showed that although there has been a reduction in opposition to same-sex partnerships, there is still a long way to go with half of survey respondents against both gay marriage and any legal recognition of same-sex cohabitation. The survey does show a shift in public sentiment, however, with the youth and college-educated firmly in favor of marriage equality.
The gay rights lobby accepts the fight for marriage equality needs clear majority support from the public before it receives CPV endorsement, which according to Thuan is more focused on shoring up its legitimacy. “LGBT rights are not seen as an urgent problem by the government. They are more concerned with economic growth, poverty reduction, jobs and stability.”
But that doesn’t mean that the CPV isn’t using a debate over same-sex marriage to its advantage. For a country often regarded as Southeast Asia’s most repressive state, there are advantages in having a very public conversation about a controversial issue.
“Over time the Vietnamese government has realized that this issue is scoring them points on the international stage,” according to Huy from the gay rights lobby iSEE.
Indeed, international human rights groups acknowledge that the CPV may be trying to exploit recent progress on gay rights as a means of “rainbow washing” its questionable record. Gay rights parades and public campaigns on marriage equality are allowed to occur, making this the one prominent area where there is substantive progress on freedoms of speech and assembly. All this is generating international goodwill, which pro-democracy advocates say the CPV is exploiting in order to distract from a recent crackdown on bloggers and dissidents, as seen with numerous high-profile arrests over the past year.
In the midst of this, gay rights campaigners are an unintended beneficiary of the communist regime’s suppression of organized movements and religions. Traditional opponents of marriage equality, such as religious groups, have been silenced over many decades. Despite the presence of nearly six million registered Catholics across the country, there have been no organized campaigns against gay rights that one would usually see in a liberal democracy.
Vietnam’s progress on gay rights stands in stark contrast to the retrograde laws adopted by its more conservative neighbors, such as Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar, and the nation should be applauded for advancing the conversation, according to Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director for LGBT Rights at Human Rights Watch.
“To take such a step [of recognizing domestic partnerships] would really help LGBT groups in surrounding countries – including China – that can point to this progress as an example. There would definitely be spillover effects in the region,” he says.
Although the National Assembly won’t legalize gay marriage this year, civil rights groups believe any legal recognition of gay relationships is a step towards greater understanding of LGBT issues, according to Tung Tran, who heads the “I Do” campaign by gay rights lobby ICS.
“We want the legalization of same-sex marriage to be taken into consideration but in the meantime we need some forms of legal protection for cohabiting same-sex couples,” says Tung.
“At the grassroots level we are getting strong support for equality but it isn’t clear from our sources [that this extends to] the higher levels of government. I would hope that they take the right step and provide the legal foundations for cohabiting couples.”
Having this legal recognition means a great deal for couples like Ngan and Huong. They don’t want to be trailblazers – all they want is to be treated the same as any straight couple.
“We’ve lived together for nine years now and we want to be together forever,” says Huong. “I want our love to be recognized as equal.”
While Vietnam is making strides on LGBT issues, it doesn’t appear that lawmakers will take the bold step of endorsing marriage equality. Couples like Ngan and Huong will have to fight that battle in 10 years time, when the National Assembly next reviews the Law on Marriage and Family.
David Mann is a Hanoi-based freelance journalist.

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