Vietnam says homosexuality ‘not a disease’ for gay rights | LGBTQ News

Vietnam says homosexuality 'not a disease' for gay rights |  LGBTQ News
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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Phong Vuong was preparing to launch a campaign advocating the legalization of same-sex marriage when he heard that the government had decided that homosexuality was “not a disease”.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Health also announced that it has banned conversion therapy.

“This announcement that being LGBT is not a disease and condemning conversion therapy practice is like a dream,” Vuong, LGBTI rights program manager at the Institute for Society, Economics and Environmental Studies (iSEE), told Al. Jazeera.

“It was something we never thought would happen, let alone come from the most reliable source of medical information in Vietnam… I think the impact on queer youth will be very, very noticeable.”

The health ministry’s post on August 3 is celebrated as fuel for an ongoing petition to protect queer Vietnamese in medical settings and legalize same-sex marriage. It’s unclear how the decision will be enforced, though, with many LGBTQ people still threatened with conversion therapy and often harshly treated by family.

The official announcement, sent to provincial and municipal health departments nationwide before being published on the government’s online information portal on August 8, states that Vietnam’s health minister has received information that some health organizations claim to offer “cures” for homosexuality.

Building on this, and referring to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) removal of homosexuality and transsexuality from the International Classification of Diseases, it continues to outline five key guidelines for the healthcare system.

Education should be strengthened so that all healthcare professionals have accurate information about “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” and queer people should be treated equally in medical settings. In addition, while LGBTQ identity cannot be treated as a disease, involuntary treatments are prohibited and mental health services can only be provided by experts in sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally, oversight and supervision of medical facilities should be increased.

“This is important as it confirms that being LGBT is not something you can fix,” Vuong said. Said. “When a queer child is taken to a medical facility … they can be used to defend themselves if they know about it.”

Portrait of ICS director Linh Ngo.
Linh Ngo, ICS director at the organization’s headquarters in the Binh Thanh District of Ho Chi Minh City [Photo by Govi Snell]

Fight for queer rights

The continued advocacy for LGBTQ rights preceded the Ministry of Health’s announcement.

“It’s not a day when the ministry wakes up and decides it’s time to do it… It took years of effort,” Linh Ngo, director of the ICS Center for LGBTQ rights advocates, told Al Jazeera.

The fight to make queerness non-medical is what iSEE’s “leave proudThe campaign launched in November last year. The campaign petitioned WHO Vietnam to officially assert that LGBTQ identity is not a disease.

iSEE and its collaborators produced a stunt video to raise awareness for the campaign, raising the question: If homosexuality is a disease, shouldn’t LGBTQ Vietnamese be able to take sick leave?

In the video, the volunteers asked their superiors for permission due to their “gay illness”. Volunteers were scolded, cursed, and asked to leave before their request was granted.

This April, the WHO Representative for Vietnam Kidong Park issued a statement. Declaration to support an end to the medicalization of queerness.

Regarding the Ministry of Health’s recent post, Vuong said, “We received a statement from WHO, and with a lot of help from other civil society partners, we got the Ministry of Health to respond as well.” Said.

iSEE with ICS Center now pushes 2022 I Đồng İor the I Agree campaign, which seeks to support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Just three days after its August 10 debut, the campaign surpassed its 250,000 signature goal – more than a million people signed the petition.

“It is wonderful to participate in and witness this,” said Dieu Anh Nguyen, who works for ICS in Ho Chi Minh City. “I think we’re basically making history.”

Revelers at Hanoi Pride wear rainbow wigs and carry rainbow flags
Participants hold rainbow flags as they attend the annual LGBTQ parade in Hanoi, Vietnam, 22 September 2019 [REUTERS/Kham]

Ngo said the petition will continue until same-sex marriage is legalized. The country’s Marriage and Family Law is expected to be reviewed by the Vietnamese Communist Party’s governing body in 2024 or 2025.

The country’s first campaign to promote gay marriage dates back almost a decade.

In 2012, the ceremonial wedding of two men in the Mekong Delta was dispersed by the police. Same-sex marriage was outlawed in 2000, and grooms were fined and forced to leave their hometowns for breaking the law.

The incident and other punishment for same-sex marriage led to the first Tôi Đồng İ campaign in 2013.

The “I Accept” campaign went viral on social media. Soon, many Facebook profile pictures in Vietnam had equal signs painted on cheeks and foreheads or on Tôi Đồng İ posters. In the nation’s capital, Hanoi, events were held in support of the campaign ahead of the National Assembly’s eighth meeting in 2014.

The movement successfully led to the decriminalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, but LGBTQ marriages are still not legally recognized.

“Vietnam is very open right now and has a lot of potential for LGBTI rights, but there is no civil protection yet,” Ngo said.

The threat of conversion therapy

A trans Vietnamese person who maintains her Al Jazeera identity and lives in the USA and has not seen her parents for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The announcement from the Ministry of Health is a big win … but I will also say that it doesn’t automatically seem like all is well,” A told Al Jazeera.

Women smile for a photo at a PFLAG event in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Posing for a photo at a PFLAG event in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam [Photo by Govi Snell]

When she finally returned to Vietnam in July, her family tried to take her to conversion therapy.

A was able to negotiate a way out of the situation, but said it’s common for queer millennials and Gen Z Vietnamese to encounter this type of treatment.

“The specter of conversion therapy hangs in every queer Vietnamese person’s home,” A said. “One of the most common things I talk about with my friends about why we choose to disclose or not disclose.”

Arwen in Ho Chi Minh City agrees.

The 36-year-old actor considers himself one of the “lucky ones”. Unlike many of his friends, his family accepts him.

Some of her friends were picked up from school and sent to work, others were given a “voodoo cure”, trapped in their home, or forced to have sex with someone of the opposite sex as a “cure”.

and 2015 questionnaire found that one in five queer Vietnamese has been forced to see a doctor to have their “disease” treated, with 9.7 percent of the 2,363 surveyed saying their family has commissioned a shaman to “remove spells”, and 60 percent said they have had to change their shaman. looks and gestures or scolding and psychological pressure.

Mong Nguyen was a parent who had a hard time accepting her gay son.

“I found out in 2011 that my son is gay,” he told Al Jazeera. “I scolded him every day. I blamed him and asked him to stay away from his gay friends.”

A year later, Nguyen learned that her son had attempted suicide.

“I wanted to change to save my child,” she said.

Today, Nguyen is an active member of the Association of Parents and Relatives of the Vietnamese LGBT Community (PFLAG). On August 17, at a PFLAG event in Ho Chi Minh City, she was standing wearing heart-shaped rainbow earrings and holding a Tôi Đồng İ fan.

Mong Nguyen speaks at a PFLAG event in front of the US and Vietnamese flags
Mong Nguyen leads a PFLAG event at the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam [Photo by Govi Snell]

The image of so many parents showing their support for LGBTQ children brought a 32-year-old entrepreneur to tears as he was too far from his own experience.

“I was accidentally found by my mother when I was 14. Since then, no matter what I did, I felt I wasn’t good enough,” he said, and asked not to be named.

“ [Ministry of Health] The announcement clearly helped boost my own confidence when I confronted him,” he told Al Jazeera.

Enforcement of queer rights

While encouraged, queer rights advocates say more needs to be done to ensure the Department of Health’s guidelines are implemented. And they state that the shipment has no legal basis.

“Too often, effective practice fails in Vietnam,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

“It will take concerted effort to root out anti-LGBT beliefs in traditional Vietnamese society… It’s not like just giving an order and ‘presto’, everything changes overnight.”

And in the US, it’s been noted that despite the recent announcement, healthcare providers still offer treatments that claim to “gender-correct”. Specifically, Mai Huong Day Care Psychiatric Hospital in Hanoi and Vinmec International Hospital, which has seven locations across the country.

Both hospitals offer treatments based on the idea that there are “real homosexuals” and “fake homosexuals” who are considered “curable”.

A attributes the popularity of this harmful concept to a health column by Dr Tran Bong Son. The column had “great influence” through the 1990s until the early 2000s, when information resources were limited and the government focused more on the family unit and removed “social evils”.

“In reality, there are a lot of people who are real gay, but there are also a lot of fake gay people,” Mai Huong’s website says.

The hospital claims to have “cured” a 16-year-old woman who dressed as a man and was thought to have a “gender problem”. “After seven months of treatment combining chemotherapy with different psychological therapies, the girl has returned to her normal state and she no longer wants to be the man she used to be,” she says on her website.

On the phone, a Mai Huong receptionist said Al Jazeera patients should be asked a series of “psychological questions” to determine whether they are “real gay” or “fake gay”.

“If it’s fake, we’ll have a cure for it,” the receptionist said.

The Vinmec website lists a “cure” for “gender identity disorders” that includes “psychological treatment” so that the patient “accepts his body gender and no longer wants to live like someone of the other sex”.

A customer relations team official at Vinmec in Ho Chi Minh City told Al Jazeera that they do not offer specific services for LGBTQ individuals.

A receptionist at the Hanoi clinic told Al Jazeera on the phone that the Health Ministry’s announcement only applies to “real gays.” Treatment will be on a case-by-case basis and “can improve cases only when patients are confused” [about] their sex or after a major shock”.

A man enters Vinmec hospital in Ho Cho Minh City, Vietnam.
Vinmec International Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Hospital still advertises so-called treatments for gender identity issues online [Photo by Govi Snell]

For Vuong, the medical “treatments” highlight the flaws in the Ministry of Health’s announcement.

“When something is done [by a medical practitioner] This is wrong, there should be a punishment for it,” Vuong said.

“There are no measures or mechanisms for those affected” [conversion therapy] to take revenge.”

Additional reporting by Thao Nguyen Hao.

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