Việt Nam, a leader for LGBT rights in Southeast Asia

Gay-paradeLess than a month ago, Việt Nam’s Health Ministry recommended that same-sex marriage be made legal.

After the Vietnamese government began considering a move to recognize same-sex marriages in July 2012, it reviewed the Law on Marriage and Family on April 16, 2013, and the Health Ministry submitted the recommendation for legalization.

At the hearing in Hà Nội, the Health Ministry cited the need to promote the health and human rights of the Vietnamese LGBT population.

According to The Atlantic, the Deputy Health Minister, Nguyễn Việt Tiến, told the lawmakers assembled:

“As human beings, homosexuals have the same rights as everyone else to live, eat, love, and be loved.”

According to Pink News, Nguyễn Việt Tiến also stirringly told the government that everyone has the right to “live with what one actually has.”

Nguyễn Việt Tiến referenced research that a minority rights activist group, the Institute for Social and Economic Environment (iSee), conducted, which found that:

90 percent of the 1,800 LGBT individuals polled had experienced homophobia and transphobia;

86 percent of those polled felt unable to come out;

15 percent had been verbally abused by their own families;

And others reported that they had been forced to undergo “gay cure” therapy.

These hostile conditions, Nguyễn Việt Tiến insightfully noted, pose ready, potential problems for the physical as well as mental health of the Vietnamese LGBT community.

These views are not Nguyễn Việt Tiến’s alone.

According to The Atlantic, in addition to the health minister’s statement, several other provincial governments and unions have publicly expressed support:

“For either full marriage rights or some form of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.”

How is it that Việt Nam, a country frequently, consistently attacked for its poor human rights record, may become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage?

The LGBT community in Việt Nam was marginalized up until recently, but changes in attitude in the legal and public spheres have been fast coming.

The Atlantic reports that Lê Quang Bình, director of iSee, is very proud of the movement and its progress over the last five years.

“The public opinion of LGBT [community] was very negative in the past.

It has become very, very supportive and positive today· think that’s a really fast change for Việt Nam, or even compared with any other country.”

Indeed, the first gay parade in Việt Nam took place in Hà Nội in August 2012, Việt Nam Idol featured an openly transgender contestant in its last season, and the Youtube web series “My Best Gay Friends” has become a viral success, with over one million views for many of its episodes.

“My Best Gay Friends” portrays the lives of homosexual, transgender, and lesbian characters unceremonially.

Rather than causes for struggle, the various sexual and gender identities are presented as normal, unproblematic, and matter-of-fact.

According to Business World, one of the stars of the show, Huỳnh Nguyễn Đăng Khoa, recently commented:

“I thought it would only interest Việt Nam’s gay community—but we’re hearing that parents, grandparents, whole families watch and love the shows and long for new episodes.”

In some respects the sudden support for same-sex marriage is surprising, but in others it is not.

Much of the movement’s progress can be attributed to the activism of groups such as iSee and Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS), which worked toward changing the representation of LGBT individuals and LGBT issues in the media.

The director of ICS, Trần Khắc Tùng, explained to The Atlantic:

“We analyzed the newspapers to see how stigmatizing and discriminating their articles were.

We engaged the media, and step by step they became familiar with the issue and then a lot of their reports were not so negative and more neutral and more ethical.”

Given Việt Nam’s consistent ranking near the bottom of international surveys of press freedom, it is moving to witness such openness to change and the revision of entrenched norms.

Việt Nam’s Confucian social mores emphasize hetero-normative family ideals and tradition, but the predominant religions in Việt Nam are not outspoken against homosexuality.

While there is an established, historic Catholic presence in Việt Nam, the church wields little influence in public affairs.

The lack of religious barriers to acceptance has made Việt Nam more receptive to the activist groups’ calls for more humane and open-minded treatment of the LGBT community and for the championing of its issues.

Additionally, the Vietnamese government has rightly perceived that the LGBT community poses no threat to its power.

This is the story of how the international LGBT rights movement found support in one of the most unlikely places.

Việt Nam may soon become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage and the second country in the greater Asia-Pacific region to do so—New Zealand was the first.

What lessons can we in the Philippines learn from the Vietnamese LGBT rights movement, so that we too may find quick, wide support from yet another deeply unlikely corner?

By NICOLE DEL ROSARIO CUUJIENG

Source: The Manila Times

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