(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
The topic of homosexuality has never been explicitly addressed in the Vietnamese Penal Code. According to Vietnam: Treatment of Homosexuals: ‘Some gay travel sources note that homosexual conduct can be prosecuted for “undermining public morality,”’ but there is no reference to the penal code or evidence that homosexual conduct has ever been prosecuted. However, after a series of highly publicized gay marriages in 1998 in Vietnam that garnered international attention, the Vietnamese national assembly banned gay marriage (Gay Vietnam).
There are no laws in the Vietnamese Constitution to protect the LGBTI community from harassment or discrimination based on sexual identity.
No published cases have been found. Would be grateful if users of this website would be able to refer us to any that they know of which involved LGBTI cases from Vietnam.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE’S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
Most members of the LGBTI community are married and deny their true sexual identity. One of the biggest reasons that homosexuality remains suppressed and ignored by the Vietnamese is a lack of understanding. In the northern regions of Vietnam, 80% of the population are peasant farmers who are more traditional, strict, and conservative. Such conservatism is pervasive even in the capital of Hanoi. Therefore homosexuals are often more closeted and fearful. Families do not even consider the possibility that their children might not marry someone of the opposite sex and there is little opportunity for children to deviate from heterosexual norms.
On the other hand, gay life in the southern regions, such as Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), was reported some years ago to be quite different from the north. Gay men have been known to openly kiss on the dance floor with no apparent risk of discrimination or harassment. There are few locations that are well known as meeting spots. One such location in Ho Chi Minh City is a public toilet facility the reporter refers to as the T-room. Upon entering the T-room, a reporter noticed that there was a lot of looking at other men but no personal contact.
The Internet has revolutionized how the younger generations are able to communicate and express themselves. This is particularly true for the gay community where there is now a virtual gay community unbeknownst to the rest of the population or the government. Vietnamese children have little to no privacy in their own homes, so the Internet provides an avenue to communicate away from their parents’ prying eyes.
As of 2000, the government’s official response was ‘we don’t have gay people here. That’s a Western thing. These people are just pretending and they’ll eventually go back to being normal (Gay Vietnamese Alliance)’. In 2002, Vietnam’s state-run media declared that homosexuality was a ‘social evil,’ along with drug use and prostitution. The government has not officially put homosexuality on its list of social evils because it is not so widespread but continues to warn families to be vigilant about it.
Despite the apparent state-authorized homophobia, there is evidence of increased tolerance of the LGBTI community. In 2002 police were aware of gay nights at the club Sam Son Discotheque in Ho Chi Minh City, but nevertheless allowed it to stay open. While the police allow such gay social events to continue, it is believed that if the gay community became more visible then there would be a backlash against the apparent threat to public morals and consequently the government would begin to close their clubs down. The perception persists however that if someone is openly gay that s/he could lose a job or scholarship, or even be evicted from housing. As a result the LGBTI community must stay underground to avoid discrimination (Gay Vietnamese Alliance).
Even as recently as 2011, there were reports that doctors discriminate against patients who admit to being gay. The societal stigma results in men who have sex with men feeling too ashamed to seek important medical attention. Doctors believed that becoming a homosexual was a fashion statement and teased gay patients and criticized anal sex despite having had training on gay issues. Consequently, homosexuals lack crucial knowledge when it comes to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. 16.4% of homosexual men tested positive for HIV/AIDS in 2009, which was an increase of 10% on 2006. Only 24% of men who have sex with men use condoms (Gay Rights Group Tackles Insensitive Medical Care).
Nevertheless, there are positive signs of increased awareness and tolerance of the LGBTI community. At the turn of the century, 82% of Vietnamese believed that homosexuality was ‘never acceptable.’ By 2007, 80% of junior and high school students believed that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality. In 2011, a G-Links-produced documentary about the challenges facing the gay community in Hoi Chi Minh City aired on VTV2, a channel that is part of the same state-run media that had claimed homosexuality was a ‘social evil’ a decade before (Gay Play in Vietnam).
2011 marked the start of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in Vietnam. It is the first concerted effort in the country to create a support system for the LGBTI community and their parents and friends. Educating families is important in Vietnam where many parents think that homosexuality is an abnormality, a fashion, or a disease. There was also an It Gets Better Vietnam Project on Youtube, whereby men and women post videos of encouragement and support so as to create a positive environment for the LGBTI community who may be struggling with their sexual identity in such a closeted culture (The Start of PFLAG Vietnam).
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS)
ICS is the main organization of LGBT people in Vietnam whose mission is to build links and live active LGBT community, mobilize and protect the rights of the LGBT community.
Institute for Social, Economic and Environment (iSEE)
Room 203, Building D10 GiangVo, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: (84-4) 6273 7933
Fax: (84-4) 6273 7936
iSEE envisions a prosperous, diverse, democratic and just society where the minorities are treated equally, and where human rights are fulfilled and protected. Our mission is to generate high quality knowledge and consolidate best practices in poverty reduction and human rights protection to (i) assist policy makers, politician and other agencies in decision making and policy formulation; (ii) educate public on issues that the minorities are facing, especially stigma and discrimination, poverty and inequality; and (iii) empower the poor, the minorities, the socially excluded, and women to address social, economic and environmental issues that they face.
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
We have no specialist on LGBTI for Vietnam, but would welcome suggestions.
Researched by: Rhiannon Archer