Beyond Legal Progress: The Reality of LGBT Discrimination in Vietnam

Over a year on from Vietnam’s lifting of bans on same-sex marriage ceremonies, advancements in the rights of LGBT citizens throughout the Southeast Asian region seem to have stagnated, and indeed in some cases, regressed. In Thailand, the recognition of a “third gender” in its constitution is a victory for its transgender citizens, but legal recognition of same-sex marriages still remains elusive. Brunei will soon begin incrementally introducing Sharia law nationwide, meaning that same-sex acts are punishable by death.

In Vietnam itself, social attitudes have remained conservative, often creating a damaging stigma attached to LGBT youth. Cultural norms see marriage and having children as an inherent part of maintaining the family’s integrity, meaning that LGBT individuals are sometimes shunned by their family or at least not accepted fully. In a survey of 3,000 LGBT Vietnamese citizens, 20% responded that they had been beaten by family members.

The Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien earlier this year published an article reporting on stories shared by Vietnamese LGBT youth. The all too familiar accounts of young people committing suicide out of social pressure occurs here too, when seventh-grader Le Minh Triet revealed that he had attempted to kill himself by taking a “handful of drugs” after ceaseless bullying of him as well as his parents.

Another young transgender boy, Tran Quyen Anh, was repeatedly forced to stand in front of his class whilst they would call him a “pervert”. When he convinced his parents to move him to another school, one of his new teachers told his parents to get him “treated” to make him behave.

It is clear that homophobia and transphobia are still a sad reality of Vietnam’s social fabric and a stain on its LGBT rights record. Vietnam has tough challenges ahead of it before becoming a true beacon for the LGBT community in Southeast Asia, but if the government works together with civil rights organisations and activists, it may have a chance to make a real difference for the rights of its LGBT citizens. Social attitudes are not cast in granite. Many societies around the world have experienced a dramatic shift in social acceptance of LGBT rights after governments extended basic rights to them.

by Perth Ophaswongse
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