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LGBT in Vietnam: a promising path toward equality

Friday, March 16, 2018, 11:54 GMT+7
LGBT in Vietnam: a promising path toward equality
Vietnamese transgendered singer Huong Giang was crowned Miss International Queen 2018 at the awards ceremony in Pattaya, Thailand. Photo: Reuters

Vietnam is playing its part in the worldwide trend of fostering an open-minded public attitude to the LGBT community with several steps toward marriage equality and a growing number of local residents willing to offer their indiscriminate support for homosexual celebrities.

Decades ago, sexual orientation was a hot button issue in the Southeast Asian country, where anyone who wished to break from traditional gender norms risked public and familiar condemnation.

Several stories reported by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper demonstrated the risks faced by children who came out to their families, including the pressure to hide their sexual identities, heavy criticism, and a fear for their personal safety.

The current Vietnam, however, is beginning to open its arms to all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Dutch Ambassador Nienke Trooster (L) and his American counterpart Ted Osius on a pro-LGBT bicycle tour of Hanoi during VietPride 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Dutch Ambassador Nienke Trooster (L) and her American counterpart Ted Osius on a pro-LGBT bicycle tour of Hanoi during VietPride 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A supportive community

On March 9, a transgendered Vietnamese singer was crowned Miss International Queen 2018 in a two-week pageant held in the seaside city of Pattaya, Thailand.

Huong Giang, the newly appointed beauty queen, overcame scores of transgendered contestants to reach the top of the podium, earning praise by LGBT and non-LGBT people alike from her homeland.

In Vietnam, public support for this community not only manifests itself in such beauty competitions, but in social campaigns as well.

VietPride is a popular event in Vietnam, offering a platform for the LGBT community to spread a positive message of self-affirmation and acceptance.

The 2016 VietPride was co-hosted by groups in Hanoi as well as the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.

Ted Osius, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam at the time, put the embassy’s support behind the event to spur a positive shift in the perception of the LGBT community in the country.

The former ambassador also led 1,000 young Vietnamese on a city-round bicycle tour meant to show support for the LGBT in the nation.

VietPride 2017 saw over 2,000 youths gather on Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in Ho Chi Minh City to spread a message of acceptance and self-respect.

LGBT college student Tran Quang Thien said: “I felt so at home joining the parade because I felt comfortable just being myself surrounded by so many like me.”

Mai Thuy from Tay Ninh Province, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, acknowledged that the Vietnamese society is developing a much fresher view of the LGBT community.

Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in Ho Chi Minh City was filled with LGBT flags, members and supporters during VietPride 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street in Ho Chi Minh City was filled with LGBT flags, members and supporters during VietPride 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“I think we should not discriminate against them [the LGBT],” Thuy said while attending VietPride 2017.

“We should show them empathy and encouragement.” 

Rights groups in Vietnam are also playing their part in the newfound confidence emanating from the country’s LGBT community, particularly when it comes to denouncing attacks from the media.

Tao Quan, an annual Lunar New Year comedy show broadcast by VTV, Vietnam’s national television channel, raised eyebrows amongst LGBT supporters during its 2018 program by allegedly portraying the LGBT group in a negative light.

The Institute of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) voiced their objection against the show and demanded an omission of all LGBT-related jokes.

Numerous Tuoi Tre readers also aired their disapproval of the controversial program.

“On Lunar New Year’s Eve, we rural people have nothing to watch except the VTV program, but disappointingly, it was full of discriminative language,” a reader named Tam opined.

“That’s why the kids here grow up prejudiced against their LGBT peers. Some of them [the LGBT] resort to quitting school or even committing suicide.”

Same-sex marriage legal? Well, it’s NOT banned!

One factor contributing to the rising comfort levels of the LGBT community might be polls revealing the positive shift in public attitude.

The Institute of Sociology, the Healthy Strategy and Policy Institute, and iSEE ran a government-supported nationwide poll on public opinion about same-sex marriages in 2013.

A scene from Tao Quan 2018 with the character on the right later coming under criticism for portraying LGBT people in misleading ways. Photo: VTV
A scene from Tao Quan 2018 with the character on the right later coming under criticism for portraying LGBT people in misleading ways. Photo: VTV

Results revealed the majority (72.7 percent) of interviewees said that legalizing same-sex marriage would not negatively affect the family lives of those involved, and 33.7 percent advocated the policy change.

Not surprisingly, those who know a homosexual were twice as supportive of making same-sex marriages legal than those who have never come into contact with an LGBT person.

This large-scale study preceded a shift in the country’s law regarding the matter.

Before 2014, the Vietnamese Marriage and Family Laws considered same-sex marriage an illegal offense. Offenders might face a fine of VND100,000-500,000 (US$4.5-22).

In 2014, however, the amendments to Point 2 of Article 8 in the Vietnamese Marriage and Family Laws stated, “The State shall not recognize marriage between persons of the same sex,” and the fine was lifted following Decree 110/2013/ND-CP.

In other words, same-sex marriage is no longer an illegal act, but still lacks government recognition.

Aside from the lack of legal protection from the state, same-sex couples can now enjoy a public wedding ceremony and live together without government intervention.

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Tien Bui / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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