Parents of LGBT (Lesbian – Gay – Bisexual and Transgender) children often journey a long, painstaking way, sometimes including years of denial, before fully supporting them in the pursuit of their true selves.
Most LGBT people face discrimination, stigma or alienation from their families and society as soon as they come out of the closet.
Some years ago, Nguyen Dang Khoa, now 27, who is openly gay, received a letter from his desperate mother, Dinh Thi Yen Ly, demanding that her son choose either to be a ‘normal’ man and live to her expectations or remain gay and leave the house.
Ly came to the ‘ultimatum’ after she had tried every way possible to seek ‘treatment’ for her son, including taking him to various psychologists.
One week later, the young man replied to his mother in a moving four-page letter, expressing a heartfelt apology and begging her to accept him as he really is, or at least give him one more year to graduate.
He said he would then leave the family and no longer be a disgrace to them.
Khoa’s letter helped his mother understand how hard he had been struggling with being gay, and ended the duo’s five-year stand-off, starting when she had stumbled upon his 11th grade diary in which he had expressed puppy love for a male friend.
In 2013, Ly joined the Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Vietnam, an organization of parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBT people aimed at uniting their support for their loved ones.
Even more, she became the organization’s president two years later.
However, not every LGBT youth can articulate their suffering to their parents.
Duy, whose mother is Thuy, a veteran PFLAG member, was admitted to a mental hospital during 11th grade for treatment for serious stress.
No one knew Duy was gay at that time.
His second hospitalization came while he was taking a postgraduate course and doing two jobs at the same time to support himself after his parents denied him financial aid.
His mother had also taken him to shamans to expel the ‘evil female spirit’ she naively believed to have made him gay.
It took Thuy 10 years to come to terms with her son’s true identity.
These are a few of the happy endings for members of the LGBT community.
From exasperated parents to committed activists
Most PFLAG parents have gone through crises due to a lack of proper understanding of their children’s sexual orientation before joining the establishment.
They have later worked out ways to overcome the frustration themselves and help their peers do the same.
Tieu Hanh Nhi, from Binh Duong Province, around 30 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, began noticing a more traditionally masculine disposition in her daughter, Ai, when she was a little girl.
She did not, however, find any material on homosexuality until Ai turned 19.
She felt relieved having learnt from a neuropsychological expert that people’s aptitude and sexual orientation are in part determined by their relationships with their parents.
Ai told her mother about the PFLAG group in Ho Chi Minh City three years ago.
A former university lecturer, Nhi was elected as a member of the PFLAG management board when the organization was launched.
One day in the summer of 2014, Nhi received a distress call from Dao, a young man residing in Nha Trang, a resort city located in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa.
Preoccupied with her son’s strange behavior, Ly, Dao’s mother, was planning to take him to Ho Chi Minh City for treatment the following day.
Set on helping Dao and his mother, Nhi asked to see Ly at the Ho Chi Minh City-based Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS), an organization which supports LGBT rights in Vietnam, where the PFLAG is located.
The two mothers shared how hard their children had been working and what a righteous life they were leading, as Dao typically drove dozens of kilometers per day as a deliveryman for his home-run seafood business.
That evening, Dao tagged Nhi in a status on Facebook: “Thanks to your help, my family is now filled with smiles and happiness. It’s as if I were born again today.”
However, not every counseling session yields immediately positive results.
Yen Ly, mother of previously Khoa, who is gay, surrendered hope to the father of H., another gay man whose mother had passed away when he was a child, after a two-hour consulting session.
His father insisted that being gay would shatter H.’s future.
Three years later, in another meeting, H. gladly shared that although his father does not fully accept his sexual orientation, he is no longer as harsh on him.
Founded in 1972 in the U.S. by the simple act of one mother, Jeanne Sobelson Manford, an American schoolteacher and activist, who publicly supported her gay son, PFLAG is the nation's largest family and ally organization, according to its website.
PFLAG has 400 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Two years ago, a married couple from the American PFLAG contacted Yen Ly, president of its Vietnamese counterpart, upon learning of the organization, and shared with her useful information on how their association works.
PFLAG Vietnam’s inception was nurtured by the ICS in 2011, and the establishment was not officially launched until January 2015.
It currently boasts a standing membership of nearly 70, who live in 13 cities and provinces, with more than 20 members conducting regular counseling sessions for parents of LGBT youths.
Seven fathers, who joined PFLAG Vietnam last year, are now active members.
PFLAG counselors receive four months of training with a local psychologist, with emotional management being the most significant lesson.
According to Tran Khac Tung, ICS director, most members of the LGBT community find familial support key to their social integration.
A survey conducted by the ICS in 2015 revealed that up to 95 percent of the community in Vietnam had faced discrimination, most of which came from their family and friends.
The inception of PFLAG Vietnam has helped speed up the growth of the parent community, resolve violence targeting LGBT members, and provide a strong impetus for them to strive toward a more fulfilling life, Tung said.
The organization has also been active in making LGBT members’ voices heard and protecting their rights.
It played an important role in the National Assembly’s passing of the amended Law on Marriage and Family, which neither bans nor recognizes same- sex marriage in Vietnam, in June 2014.
Its members also campaigned for the law-making body’s approval of the amended Civil Code, which includes a new provision of recognition of the right to sex reassignment, or to become transgender, in late 2015.
The code will take effect on January 1, 2017.