Gay Vietnam News & Reports

1 Vietnamese Grassroots GLBT Organization Emerges 7/97

1a Gay Life Is Persecuted and Condemned in Vietnam 7/99

2 Vietnam Approves Historic Trade Pact with U.S. 11/01 (non-gay background story)

3 The Vietnam War and Gay Men (1998)

4 Things are gradually improving for southern California Vietnamese gays 4/02

5 Gays in Vietnam seek an identity 8/03

6 Men who have sex with men and HIV in Vietnam: A review 2003 (book excerpt)

7 New TV crime series enters gay territory 7/04

8 Asian Gays and Lesbians Celebrate 10 Years of Online " Utopia "12/05

9 Chung: A new year: Vietnamese and openly gay 2/07

10 British pianist banned from Vietnam 5/07

11 Vietnamese high school pupils accepting of homosexuality 10/07

12 Until he came along, homosexuality remained firmly stashed away 6/08

13 Things Looking up for Gay Community in Vietnam 8/08

13a Vietnam allows some sex-change surgeries 8/08

14 Website launched for gay men to reduce spread of HIV 12/08

15 Sweden funds project promoting LGBT rights in Vietnam 1/09

16 We are family, too: Vietnamese join San Jose’s Tet parade 2/09

17 Your say 2/09

18 Fringe films 3/09

18a ‘Open’ exhibit targets closed hearts and minds 12/09

19 Vietnamese ‘Still in Closet’ 12/09

29 July 1997 – Utopia, Southeast Asian Gay and Lesbian Resources

Vietnamese Grassroots GLBT Organization Emerges
(closed 2002)

This letter was written in English by an emerging grassroots group in Ho Chi Minh City. If you wish to contact them, please use the private E-mail address mentioned at the end. As in many SE Asian countries, AIDS has been the issue that gays first organized around, creating, in addition, a place for open discussion of GLBT issues. Our friend who attended a meeting of the group last week said that it was composed of about 50 people, including transexuals and lesbians. It is the only Vietnamese group with any sort of program specifically aimed at the concerns of GLBT.

Dear Gay Associations of the World:

Nguyen Friendship is a society working in HIV/AIDS preventing for gay community in Ho Chi Minh City. Today we write a letter to request advice from gay associations in the world, for protect our group in Vietnam and also uniting of all friends in the world.

First we would like to introduce our activities:

1.In the group there is: a leader, a secretary, a cashier, the press group, the musical group, outreach team and volunteers. Together we are part of 10,000 people who are homosexual in Ho Chi Min City and 800,000 – 100,000 gay people in the provinces.

2.Every month, we ourselves issue hand-size leaflets to send to them (see image on the right). In those, the most of news were translated from foreign information and magazine, so it is very little. This is a problem we hope you can help us with a lot of abundant information.

3.Besides, we also practice the money saving project to help poor gays in their difficult life now. this project raises 100 USD (1 million VND) in the work. We have a difficult problem to solve because we don’t have a lot of experiences. Could you advise us, please?

4.We always hold meetings, activities, and studies so we can think about AIDS clearly. Sometimes we also discuss the gay way of life and hope to normalize relations with other people and family, and avoiding despising and discrimination. All is our activities, however we still have problems, because this is a small group that are usually despised by the oriental society. It’s important that we haven’t been supported yet by any associations or personal support.

For that reason, some projects are obstructed as: (1) Teaching and training careers to help LGBT people in the difficult life. (2) Bring up education and raise their knowledge about AIDS. With the projects, we would like to hope that you could help us advise of spirit and material.

All of us unite in the spirit of mutual help and friendship with purpose: DON’T DIE OF IGNORANCE and LET’S HAVE SAFER SEXUALITY. We look forward to hearing from gay associations in the world.

Yours truly, Nguyen Friendship Society E-mail to:

Recents comments from Nguyen Friendship Society (2001)

Latest AIDS News:You Can Help Us

We are a group of about 50 volunteers working to prevent HIV/AIDS among gay and bisexual men in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Because there is considerable gay discrimination in Vietnam and because groups like ours are not considered legal, we work very quietly. Our friends abroad publish this Internet information for us, and act as our "Ambassadors" to the outside world. They also provide moral, technical and organizational support, carry information and materials, and raise money.

Our most important work is AIDS prevention and education among men who have sex with men ("MSM"), which includes many, many bisexuals.Homosexuals here are socially and politically invisible. Most foreign non-government organizations here include AIDS with womens health programs. Although AIDS is still a small problem among Vietnam’s gays and can be stopped completely, foreign sex tourism is on the rise. Many visitors leave behind everything they know about safe sex when they come to Viet Nam. Unfortunately, we have learned that one third of Vietnamese men who have sex with foreigners do not use a condom, and may have never used a condom before.

The Vietnamese government has few resources, which leaves the responsibility to a grassroots organization like ours. Free condom distribution in Vietnam is still rare, and we have pioneered this work among MSM. Condoms are distributed in many public places (including coffee houses, karaoke clubs, swimming pools and brothels) where men meet other men for sex. Volunteer teams cruise the "dark streets" at night, to distribute condoms and our simple safe sex leaflets to men looking for sex. We could give away 5000 a week if we had them. Usually we have none. If you like what we are doing there are ways you can help. We are grateful for tax-deductible financial gifts in any amount. In additional to nominal operating expenses, our group badly needs $2000 to buy its own motorbike. We also need money for rent, for condoms, and for printing safe sex information.

July 7, 1999 – Fortune City News

Gay Life Is Persecuted and Condemned in Vietnam

by Tien Nguyen, Lam Tran, and Tom Le San Francisco
Vietnam is about to enter a new height in human right violation by condemning gays, lesbians, and transexuals’ freedom of expression.
The March 9 1999 issues of the Cong An Xa Hoi (Social Policing) published the article "The Gioi Pe-De va Nhung Ket Cuc (The Gay Life Style and Consequences) by Dang Hong Giang condemning homosexuality. He quoted the Ministry of Education stating that homosexuality is a problem with no known cure which spreads communicable diseases, causes mental illness, and creates emotional havocs; stated that the Vietnamese culture and society cannot accept homosexuality; called for strict laws prohibiting gay marriage; and warned each person and their family of being on the watch for this plague.

The South China Morning Post on Saturday May 23 1998 contributed by DEUTSCHE PRESSE-AGENTUR in Hanoi reported: Government officials have broken up the country’s first known lesbian marriage and extracted a promise from the lovers they will never live together. Twenty officials from various Communist Party groups met the couple for three hours at their home in the Mekong Delta town of Vinh Long. They were acting on instructions of the Justice Ministry in Hanoi "to put an end to the marriage", the Thanh Nien newspaper reported. It is unclear what kind of persuasion was used to get the women’s agreement or what punishment they could face if they change their minds, but they signed a document promising not to live together, the justice official said. This issue was raised at the most recent session of the National Assembly during debate on amendments to the marriage law.

In 1997, The Lao Dong Newspaper launched a virulent critique of a marriage between two men
in Ho Chi Minh City as having a lavish ceremony held in a big Saigon hotel, provoking an avalanche of protests from residents when other homosexual marriages in Vietnam have taken place in discrete ceremonies since it is a taboo. It should be publicly condemned – Public opinion does not support this – said Nguyen Thi Thuong, vice-director of the city’s state-run Consulting Center for Love, Marriage and Families. The police are reported as saying that no laws exist which would enable them to punish the happy couple. The honeymooners could not be reached for comment.

Legal or not is of no consequence, the Communist has a legacy of persecution of anyone not conforming to the communist code of behavior. Since the fall of SaiGon, human rights violations in Vietnam escalated to countless incidents. Arrests are made without charges and trials. Prisoners of consciences include Buddhist monks and Catholic priests. In the 1997 Amnesty International Report, it is stated that "strict state control of the media, continuing restrictions on freedom of expression and lack of official information made it difficult to obtain details of human rights violations."

Not to forget history, Nguyen Chi Thien, author of the poetry collection Hoa Dia Nguc ("The Flowers of Hell") and a 27-year veteran of the Vietnamese prison system, in her address to the House Committee on International Relations on November 8 1995 stated: "Millions of people also lost their lives in the so-called war to liberate the south. In actually, this "war of liberation" was nothing more than a struggle to impose Communism, or its Marxist-Leninist brand, on the whole of Vietnam as a stepping stone to the domination of the rest of Southeast Asia. After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, hundreds of thousands of people went to fill up the Vietnamese Gulag. There was no need for a blood bath since that would be too obvious. Instead, under the new regime, hundreds of thousands of people died of hunger and cold or simply died without notice in godforsaken corners of the jungle."

Another recent human rights violation shows history is repeating itself. In March 15 1999, Representative Edward R. Royce wrote to the ambassador Douglas B. Peterson on behalf of Dr. Nguyen Thanh Giang, a respected geophysicist and a freedom activist, for being arrested speaking out the cause of democracy and human rights in Vietnam. Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch stated: "Nguyen Thanh Giang’s arrest is an assault on freedom of expression, and he should be immediately and unconditionally released."

The Vietnamese family values as dictated by confucianism and catholicism make it painfully impossible for gay and lesbians in Vietnam to live normal lives.
On top of these social and religious pressures, increasing attacks of gays and lesbians by state run media and mental persecutions by the state police will cause slow deaths to gays and lesbians in Vietnam.

November 28, 2001 – The New York Times

Vietnam Approves Historic Trade Pact with U.S.
(non-gay background story)

by Reuters, Hanoi
Vietnam Wednesday approved a historic agreement to normalize trade with former enemy the United States and give it access to the world’s biggest market on the same terms most other nations enjoy. The National Assembly voted 278 in favor and 85 against the market opening pact, which was ratified by Washington last month. The trade pact, which took years to negotiate and sixteen months to fully ratify after signing in July 2000, will finally remove Vietnam from a small group of states, including North Korea, Afghanistan, Serbia and Cuba, denied normal trade relations with the United States.

Economists say Vietnam will see the most immediate benefits as tariffs on its exports are slashed to about four percent from 40 percent. Trade Minister Vu Khoan told a news conference the two countries were completing legal formalities to allow for implementation, expected from the start of next year.

"With this event, the process of normalising relations between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the United States has been fully realized,” Khoan said. U.S. Charge d’affaires Robert Porter said the United States was confident the pact would take effect by year’s end and would do much to dispel remnants of mistrust from the Vietnam War. "(It) is further evidence that two countries are engaging in a broader, more open relationship,” he said in a facsimile message answering questions from reporters. Vu Khoan said Vietnam had always stressed its willingness to consign the past to the past, but added that U.S.-Vietnam ties needed to be based on mutual respect for independence and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs — terminology Hanoi uses to ward off criticisms of its rights record. Do Van Tai, head of the assembly’s external relations department, said the vote for ratification would have been higher had it not been for a bill approved this year by the U.S. House of Representatives that would tie future U.S. aid to Vietnam to greater respect for rights.

Vietnamese Critize Hypocrisy On Rights
Assembly delegates reiterated calls for the bill to be scrapped, arguing it was hypocritical given the damage the United States had done to Vietnam during the war that ended with a communist victory in 1975. Khoan said more needed to be done to repair war damage. Washington imposed a punishing trade embargo on Hanoi until 1994, a year before normalization of diplomatic ties under the Clinton administration. If properly implemented, diplomats say the pact should ease Hanoi’s eventual accession to the World Trade Organization. Khoan said it was a very important step toward WTO accession, something shown by a plan by the global trade body’s director-general Mike Moore to visit Hanoi Thursday.

"We shall now start to discuss the essence of our application to join the WTO,” he said. "We have already had four rounds of talks with the WTO, but they have been about transparency only.” Khoan said the National Assembly had instructed the government to takes steps to tighten observance of intellectual property rights, a key requirement of the trade agreement, and admitted that implementation of existing laws was a problem.

Khoan added that further talks would be necessary with the United States to reach an agreement covering textile imports. Earlier this year analysts said the trade pact could double Vietnam’s annual exports to the United States to more than $1.0 billion within one or two years. But that expectation has been tempered somewhat by the global economic downturn and the turmoil that has followed the September 11 attacks on the United States. Kazi Matin, the chief World Bank economist in Hanoi, told reporters the trade agreement should provide a boost despite the current slackening of U.S. demand. “I think Vietnam can still expect some growth of its exports to the U.S. in 2002, and probably a much faster growth rate in 2003 and 2004 when the recovery starts,” he said.


The Vietnam War and Gay Men

by David Bianco
U.S. involvement in Vietnam was one of the most hotly contested issues of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the era that also spawned the gay liberation movement. Gay men found themselves on both sides of the conflict, as service members and as anti-war protesters.

Many gay men, like Leonard Matlovich (who later made a test case as an openly gay soldier), willingly enlisted for tours of duty in Vietnam. At the time, Matlovich felt it was his patriotic duty to "kill a Commie for Mommy." But in retrospect, he wondered about his real intentions in enlisting. "I was so dissatisfied with being gay," he later recalled, "that in some ways, volunteering for duty in Vietnam was like a death wish or a suicide pact." Matlovich also noted that he signed up looking for male companionship.

Gay soldiers developed an underground network for finding each other, much as gay men always had done back home. Gay G.I.s had to be particularly careful, because they were in jeopardy of court martial and prison or dishonorable discharge if caught or turned in. That risk lessened somewhat as the war escalated and the Armed Forces needed more and more fighting power. During the war, there were at least two gay bars and several other gay-friendly ones in Saigon, though it was risky for servicemen to frequent them.

"You … have to be in uniform when out of quarters," one gay sergeant told The Advocate in 1971, "and this makes promiscuous bar-hopping dangerous…. Also, there’s a 10 p.m. curfew." But gay G.I.s claimed that the best cruising actually occurred right on the bases – at the USO service clubs in Cam Ranh Bay and Danang and at the military swimming pool near the Tan Son Nhut Air Force base. The verandah of the officers’ club at China Beach was also a gay hot spot. At the front, there was of course much less opportunity for privacy and intimacy. Many gay soldiers experienced come-ons from straight comrades who were sexually frustrated by being away from women for long stretches. Stateside, other gay men did everything in their power to avoid military service.

Rey Rivera (a.k.a. Sylvia Rivera, one of the transvestites arrested at the Stonewall riots) was drafted in 1967 at 18 and decided to report to the local draft board in full drag – high heels, miniskirt, and red nails. The sergeants in charge assumed Rivera was a woman. But Rivera corrected them and was promptly sent to the psychiatrist, who asked if there was a problem with his sexuality. "I don’t know. I know I like men," Rivera replied. "I know I like to wear dresses. But I don’t know what any (problem) is." The doctor quickly stamped "HOMOSEXUAL" in red across Rivera’s draft notice. Claiming to be gay became a popular way for straight men to avoid the draft. One draft resisters’ manual from 1968 dispensed stereotypes and epithets along with advice: "Act like a man under tight control. Deny you’re a fag, deny it again quickly, then stop, as if buttoning your lip…. And maybe twice, no more than three times over a half-hour interview, just the slightest little flick of the wrist." The early gay liberation movement was the scene of both draft resistance and anti-war protest. Gay groups and publications encouraged members to resist serving.

"Homosexuals will not fight in a war that fucks us over in all its institutions," read an editorial in a San Francisco gay paper late in 1969, summing up the attitude of many gay leftists. "We will not fight in an army that discriminates against us." Many of those who founded the Gay Liberation Front (which took its name from the Marxist National Liberation Front of Vietnam) had been active in anti-war demonstrations before Stonewall, like the first Moratorium on Washington.

After gay liberation took off, they continued the campaign. During the December holidays in 1969, GLF handed out flyers in Greenwich Village near the site of the Stonewall rebellion encouraging people to wear black armbands and to send gifts to G.I.s in Vietnam in the name of peace. The following spring, GLF-ers shouting, "Suck Cock, Beat the Draft!" joined a protest in Washington that ended in a "nude-in" in the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument.

For Further Reading:
Kopkind, Andrew. "The Boys in the Barracks" in Lavender Culture, ed. Karla Jay and Allen Young (Jove/HBJ, 1978).
Pax Vobiscum. "Gay Life Is There, Vietnam G.I. Says, But You Have to Be Careful." The Advocate, May 26-June 8, 1971.
Shilts, Randy, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military (St. Martin’s, 1993).

April 15, 2002 – The Orange County Register

Things are gradually improving for southern California Vietnamese gays

by Anh Do
Alex Hoa had read the story, about hundreds of homosexuals swarming a hotel in southern Vietnam, staging a parade that a Communist-run daily dubbed a "monstrosity." The spectacle was "highly frenzied." The dances drew crowds to the city of Long Hai, viewing men who look like women in "very revealing" clothes and strutting fashion-model-style, after surgery at Thai clinics that charged up to $10,000, said the newspaper called Thanh Nien.

Cheers were wild. "It was an abnormal phenomenon," the publication wrote this month, "and this is foreign to our country’s tradition. "This monstrosity," it went on to say, "poses a headache for officials in charge of culture and education." Why continue to write this? I ask Hoa, active for more than a decade in Orange County’s Gay Vietnamese Alliance. Friends going back to Vietnam every year tell him that accepting the political identity of lesbians, bisexuals, gays and the transgendered is a new concept.

There is a desperate need for public role models to speak for the voiceless who are proud of who they are, north to south. In our community here, total tolerance is still a dream. But the local scene is more open as he and others step up to promote social and networking opportunities in which participants can express their individuality. Just in the past couple of years, Vietnamese nightclub-goers have seen a more visible presence of gays in the audience and on stage. The magnetic Brigitte Thuy Tien, chanteuse at area hangouts like Moulin Rouge, Music City, Can’s, Majestic and MVP, charms listeners with her French songs, translated from old tango tunes. They applaud her as a male performer in glamorous gowns. Diem, the weekly entertainment magazine, publishes ads for social and health services at the Orange County Gay and Lesbian Center.

It also printed a full-page notice for Cafe Tinh Trai, a support group for Vietnamese gays that meets each Sunday and is sponsored by the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team. Mimi News, a bilingual monthly, profiled Sabrina, a popular Vietnamese transsexual, in its March issue while Hop Luu, a literary journal, recently published a poem by Le Nghia Quang Tuan, celebrating sexual intimacy between two men. More and more, ethnic radio and television debate gay issues in talk shows. "The general perception is that it’s no longer a silent taboo, that homosexuality is not a physiological disease," said Hoa, in his 40s.

"I believe the public has recognized my peers, that we are part of the Vietnamese Diaspora. As for their acceptance, it’s only a partial embrace. The initial moral judgment persists." And so do the myths, he adds, such as gay Viets are "artistically inclined," doing well only in "beauty-oriented businesses." Vietnamese, singer Brigitte says, "could even be more advanced, more tolerant, but they’re influenced by the conservative American population. That can affect their way of thinking." So the crooner chooses songs from the 1950s and ’60s and tries to please the crowd. "It’s a way to educate people. We’re not bad, and we’re never boring," says a laughing Brigitte, 32, a French-language graduate of California State University, Fullerton.

To make more strides, GVA members say perhaps they can set up a booth at Tet festivals or man a table on weekends outside the Asian Gardens Mall, the most visible landmark in Little Saigon. They want to reach young, Americanized Vietnamese who flood chat rooms and are coming out at an earlier age than the previous generations. Yet gay Viets lack an issues forum, activists say.

There is no lobby group working solely on their behalf, they have no political representation. Even the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team in Garden Grove trying to help has not been able to go into high schools, where officials preaching abstinence will not allow them to interact with students in gay-straight alliances. Nolan Same, the group’s youth advocate, says the Vietnamese, like many Asians, "would rather not talk about homosexuality, which they view as a dishonor. The young people know it’s something you just don’t bring up.

You’re raised to put your family first and to follow their wishes." And many parents come from the old country, where the government considers being gay an "ill" and blames it on bad Western ideologies. Homosexuality is not a crime in Vietnam, but such men and women are seen as "sick" people ruining local morals. "My husband and I have been told this, time after time, it’s sort of like brainwashing," says a mother from Fountain Valley who is learning to accept her daughter’s gay orientation.

She isn’t surprised by the newspaper story published about Vietnam’s gay parade, but she is surprised that there aren’t more outlets to help Vietnamese gays in Orange County. "I suppose this attitude may not change soon, but the push has to start and it has to start here."

August 4, 2003 – Agence France Presse

Taipei Times, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

Gays in Vietnam seek an identity

Although relatively free from discrimination, some Vietnamese gays feel their existence is ignored rather than accepted (AFP)

With his pink lipstick, eye makeup and black nail varnish, Ti prefers not to shake hands and instead raises his arm into the classic, clichéd limp-wristed position. "I knew I was gay from the age of five or six," said the 27-year-old, sitting in a coffee shop in Vietnam’s southern business capital of Ho Chi Minh City.

"I started wearing girls’ clothes at first, and then when I was about 14 I started wearing makeup." Ti stands out everywhere he goes in the city, whether he is with other gay men or not. "I don’t care what people think. I don’t feel discriminated against anyway. I’ve never been attacked or verbally abused," he said. While cross-dressers are few and far between in the bustling metropolis, homosexuals are not. Two years ago, Chung A, the head of the country’s anti-AIDS, prostitution and drugs committee, declared that the number of gays in Vietnam could be counted on the fingers of his two hands. By March this year, Chung had changed his tune.

"The number of homosexuals has increased a lot and the issue of AIDS prevention in this group needs to be addressed," he was quoted by the Lao Dong newspaper as saying. The dramatic increase in the number of openly gay men in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi has sparked considerable media interest, with most newspapers labeling homosexuals as being either ill or victims of a current trend. In the women’s magazine The Gioi Phu Nu, a married man wrote in to an agony-aunt column in May to express his distress at having fallen in love with a young man. The response was less than sympathetic.

"It’s fortunate you and the young man are conscious of your ‘horrific love affair’ and that you want to find a way out," said the magazine’s advice columnist. "I suggest you find a doctor who specializes in this field, be brave, admit your sickness and get cured."

The family magazine Tiep Thi Va Gia Dinh also did not mince words on the topic of homosexuality. "Loving people of the same sex is deviant behavior that is incompatible with the good morals and time-honored customs of Vietnam," it asserted in a March issue.

But Le Hoang, the popular director of the controversial sex and drugs movie Bar Girls, struck a softer tone when he answered questions about homosexuality on a Vietnamese Web site in May. In response to a man who said he could tolerate neither the genuinely "ill" gays nor the fashion victims, Hoang said: "Why? Are you gay yourself? Gays are ill, but there is no law saying ill people should be punished."

"Qualities such as morality, talent and dignity do not depend on sexuality. In Denmark, gays can marry. Well, Vietnam may not be Denmark, but we’re not back in the Roman times either." Outward discrimination of the kind sometimes found in Western countries is rare in Vietnam, possibly because homosexuality does not yet exist as a firm concept in Vietnam and also because a large degree of same-sex tactility is accepted as normal in Southeast Asian cultures.

"Gay identity is not well established in Vietnam. A man could have sex with another man and not consider himself gay," said Donn Colby, a Fulbright Research Scholar who conducted a survey entitled Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) in Ho Chi Minh City in 2001. "Because of this the number of men who experiment with sex with other men is probably higher here than in the West."

Those who do identify themselves as gay are careful about how, and to whom, they reveal their sexuality. Tam, a 24-year-old graphic design artist, has never told his parents, fellow students or work colleagues that he is gay. "If you don’t officially announce it, then people are obliged to treat you equally," said the slightly-built amateur DJ.

There are no laws or regulations on homosexuality or homosexuals in Vietnam, and no mention of gays as a risk group for HIV and AIDS. Donn Colby believes the omission of homosexuals from public HIV prevention messages has encouraged MSM to underestimate their vulnerability to infection. The misconception is worrying, given that Colby’s survey of 219 MSM concluded that members of this group have multiple sexual partners, do not use condoms regularly and are at high risk of contracting HIV.

"But things are changing slowly," said Colby. "A programme (funded by the Ford Foundation) on men’s sexual health in Nha Trang includes MSM." Male prostitution and public sex venues are widespread in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Zoos, parks, lakes, swimming pools and saunas have all been identified by state-run media as venues for sex between men. But while police find it hard to take action against gay activity in public places, they move decisively on male brothels.

One of Ho Chi Minh City’s few male brothels was closed down last year and its owner slapped with a 10-year prison sentence. The mainstream gay scene in the southern metropolis is also facing hard times, with its only gay club shuttered, ostensibly for refurbishment.

Minh, a 24 year-old architect with a French boyfriend, expressed his frustration at the gay community’s lack of clear identity. "I just think we should think more about us as a group. We should let people know that we exist," he said. "Coming out is not enough. We need a voice."

From: AIDS Education and Prevention (book)
Published by Guilford Press 2004
Pages 45-54

Men Who Have Sex With Men And HIV In Vietnam: A Review

Donn Colby, Nghia Huu Cao, and Serge Doussantousse

-Donn Colby is with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University of California, San Francisco, and the Columbia Asia Medical Center, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
-Nghia Huu Cao is with Pasteur Institute, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
-Serge Doussantousse is with Médècins Sans Frontieres, Vientiane, Laos.
Address correspondence to Donn Colby, M.D.,M.P.H., Columbia Asia Medical Center, 08 Alexandre deRhodes, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; e-mail:

Men who have sex with men (MSM) in Vietnam’s urban centers are increasing in numbers and visibility. Although limited to a few surveys, the available data on MSM in Vietnam show that they are at increased risk for HIV infection due to high numbers of sexual partners, high rates of unsafe sex, and inconsistent condomuse. There are significant numbers of male sex workers in Vietnam and these men are also at high risk for HIV infection. The lack of data on HIV prevalence among MSM and the fact that the media and public health prevention programs ignore MSM as a population at risk leads many MSM to mistakenly believe that their risk for HIV is low.

The low perception of risk, combined with inadequate knowledge, may make MSM less likely to actively protect themselvesfrom HIV infection. More research is needed on current behavior and HIV prevalence among MSM andmale sex workers in Vietnam.

MSM in Vietnam’s larger cities could easily be targeted for prevention using peer educators to decrease their risk for HIV infection.The situation of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Vietnam is changing rapidly. On one hand, rapid economic growth and liberalizing social attitudes in the larger cities have allowed the emergence of large and increasingly visible homosexual population.

On the other hand, homosexuality is definitely not considered normal or anacceptable lifestyle in Vietnam and the majority of homosexual men keep their sexual orientation secret. Increasing communication with the rest of the world has also allowed urban MSM in Vietnam to learn from gay rights movements in other countries. Gay foreign tourists and Viet Kieu, ethnic Vietnamese who live in Western countries and return to Vietnam to work or vacation, are commonly encountered in MSM identified venues in the larger cities.

The term gay is now being adopted by many urban MSM to describe a male homosexual. Although MSM may be increasingly visible, there has been very little published research on homosexuality in Vietnam (Khuat, 1998). In fact, there had been very little published research on any aspect of sexuality in Vietnam prior to the emergence ofthe HIV epidemic. Therefore, most research in Vietnam that deals with sexuality and AIDS Education and Prevention, 16(1), 45–54, 2004© 2004 The Guilford Press

All of the few published studies that even mention homosexuality have focused on the relationship between sexual behavior and the risk for acquiring HIV infection. In this article we will review the current situation of MSMin Vietnam, with attention to sexual behavior and the risk of transmitting HIV infection. Where available, the information in this review comes from published studies on risk behavior, knowledge, and attitudes regarding HIV.

Also cited is information from the Vietnamese media, which for most people in the country is the only available source of information about homosexuality. The media therefore influence public opinion even if, given that they are entirely state controlled, they do not necessarily represent all of the attitudes and opinions toward MSM and homosexuality present in Vietnamese society today. Media reports also give insight into the attitudes and biases of the country’s political rulers, who through state censorship manage what is written and published.

Our aimis to try to relate an understanding of the situation of Vietnamese MSM in relation tothe HIV epidemic in the year 2003.

Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia and shares land borders with Cambodia, Laos, and China. Its population in 2001 was 79 million, of which 80% was rural. The populationis very young, with a median age of 23. Literacy is high at 93% (UNAIDS/WHO, Working Group on Global HIV/AIDS and STI Surveillance, 2002). In 1986, the government of Vietnam established the policy Doi Moi, or “new change,” which allowed increased private enterprise and foreign investment.

In 1995,Vietnam normalized relations with the United States and joined the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Economic growth has been rapid in the past few years, especially in the urban areas. Nevertheless, Vietnam remains a poor country, with a year 2000 per capita gross national product (GNP) of U.S. $404 (Asian Development Bank, 2002).

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of about 7 million. It is located in the south and is the commercial center of the country. Hanoi, with a population of about 2 million, is the capitol of Vietnam andlies in the north of the country. The distance between the two cities is more than 1,300kilometers (700 miles).

The first known case of HIV infection in Vietnam was reported in 1990 (World Health Organization [WHO], 1999). The number of new HIV infections reported peryear has risen dramatically from less than 2,000 per year in the early 1990s to 4,316 in 1998, 9,329 in the year 2000, and more than 15,000 in 2002.

By the end of 2002, the cumulative total number of infections reached 59,200 (Vietnam Ministry of Health,2003). Intravenous drug users (IDUs) are the largest group affected, constituting 62% of infections (Vietnam Ministry of Health, 2003). Other known high-risk groups in Vietnam are female commercial sex workers (CSWs) and patients in sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics. Fully 35% of infections have no reported risk factor and 85% of infections occur in males.

UNAIDS estimated that there were up 130,000 people living with HIV in Vietnam at the end of 2001 (UNAIDS/WHO, 2002). Sentinel surveillance for HIV in Vietnam targets six populations in 20 different provinces: patients in STD clinics, female CSWs, IDUs, tuberculosis patients, pregnant women, and male military conscripts (Nguyen et al., 1999).

Information on risk behavior, other than category of surveillance, is not recorded (WHO, Regional Officefor the Western Pacific, 1999). MSM are not included in routine surveillance. In Ho Chi Minh City, the number of new infections identified in the city more than doubled from 1,164 in 1999 to 2,940 in the year 2002. Prevalence rates have been rising rapidly in most surveillance populations in Ho Chi Minh City and in 2002 reached 76% in IDUs, 26% in female CSWs, 8% in STD patients, 3.4% in male military recruits, and 0.9% in pregnant women (Provincial AIDS Committee of Ho ChiMinh City, 2002).

In western Europe, Australia and the United States, the majority of people infected with HIV are MSM (United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 2000).

In Asian countries that include homosexual sex in their statistics, MSM have been found to beat increased risk for HIV infection (Chan et al., 1998). Prevalence of HIV among MSM in Cambodia in the year 2000 was 15% (Monitoring the AIDS Pandemic[MAP], 2001). Among Japanese men, homosexual sex accounts for three times a smany HIV infections as heterosexual sex (MAP, 2001).

Research in Thailand has shown an increased risk for HIV infection among male military recruits reporting same-sex behavior (Beyrer et al., 1995) and among male sex workers (MSWs) (Kunawararak et al., 1995).

In Vietnam, sentinel surveillance does not include MSM, and behavioral surveillance surveys do not ask about same-sex behavior. Therefore, there are no data on therelative importance of homosexual sex in the overall HIV epidemic or in relation to other risk behaviors.

There is very little information on homosexuality in Vietnam prior to the emergenceof HIV as a public health problem in the 1990s. In Vietnam there is no tradition of an accepted or historical role in society for homosexual men. This is in contrast withother Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Laos, where effeminate menknown as kathoey have a long tradition of an accepted albeit highly stigmatized role insociety (Chan et al., 1998)

.The most notable aspect of Vietnamese society’s view on homosexuality is its lack of attention to the matter. The 1990 government plan for responding to the HIV epidemic noted that: “Homosexual behaviour probably occurs in VietNamas in mostother countries, but there are no formal meeting places or organized homosexualgroups. This mode of transmission is therefore not considered to contribute significantly to an eventual spread of HIV in Viet Nam” (Vietnam Ministry of Health, 1990,p. xxx).

In 2002, when interviewed about the HIV epidemic, the head of the communicationdepartment of the National AIDS Committee was quoted as saying, “My guess is the number of homosexuals in Vietnam is only a few hundred” (Tran, 2002). Even the law in Vietnam ignores homosexuality. There are no laws against homosexualityor homosexual sex in Vietnam, a fact that probably owes more to in attention rather than to any progressiveness on the part of the legal system.

A common belief about MSM in Vietnam is that most are not truly homosexualbut merely temporarily following a Western fashion or trend. This idea can be seen inthe writings of Dr. Tran Bong Son, the most famous sexologist in Vietnam. He has written numerous books on sexuality and frequently answers questions about sexualissues in newspapers and magazines. Although his views on homosexuality are based more on his opinion than on any research or data (Dr. Tran Bong Son, personal communication,2002), it is informative to look at what he writes because his name and books are widely known within Vietnam and have a great influence on what the general population, including medical professionals and policy makers, believe to be the truth about homosexuality in Vietnamese society.

An example of Dr. Son’s views can be seen in a Vietnamese language HIV prevention brochure that was published by an international non-governmental organization(NGO) and that lists Dr. Son both as an advisor and as the author of several references (CARE International, 2001). The brochure describes two kinds of homosexual men in Vietnam: the that, or “true,” kind that is inherently homosexual and is “very rare”and the gia, or “fake,” kind that has been lured by fashion or experimentation into trying homosexuality and who will eventually return to a heterosexual lifestyle.

The stated conclusion in the brochure is that the majority of the homosexual men in Vietnam are “fake.” Although there is no scientific research or facts to support this idea, it has been repeated so many times within the media and popular culture that it is now accepted as the truth in Vietnam.

In a recent newspaper article about homosexuality, a physicianin the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health Education was quoted as saying that“ you can conclude that the majority of young homosexuals are gia.” (Tien, 2002).The state-controlled media in Vietnam occasionally carry reports on homosexuality.These reports often cite facts from international research but always include statements that reveal a negative bias against homosexuals.

For example, one recent magazine article stated, “There is no scientific basis to conclude that homosexuality is an illness. But it is clear that these people are mentally confused” (Tiep Thi & GiaDinh, 2003).The government of Vietnam currently has a “social evils” campaign to crackdown on prostitution and drug use, both of which are associated with HIV infection. Although one press report in 2002 stated that the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs was calling for homosexuality to be labeled as a social evil (DeutschePresse-Agentur, 2002), the government has not publicly voiced any official policytoward homosexuality or MSM…

(sections of this report were omitted here. See for full text.)

…The best way to approach HIV prevention may be different in Saigon and Hanoi and will need to be guided by the local situation. Although MSM may be most easily noticed in the big cities, it should not be assumed that they do not exist in Vietnam’s medium-sized cities, many of which have populations in the hundreds of thousands and several of which lie on the ocean and have sizable domestic and international tourist trades.

More information is needed on MSM in these areas, which may warrant local prevention programs of their own. Although there is a need for more research and information about MSM in Vietnam, it has to be acknowledged that increased attention also carries the risk of a negative reaction. If the government takes more notice of MSM in society, there is no guarantee that its response will not be harmful with stigmatization or overt persecution rather than constructive with education and support.

Within the past year the two locations in Ho Chi Minh City that most openly catered to homosexual men, one disco and one sauna, have both been closed by the government. Although the same fate befalls many nongay-identified venues in the city and the government has not released any official policy toward MSM or homosexuality, it is entirely possible that a bias against homosexuals is already showing in official actions.

Increased awareness about MSM may bring a backlash of negative reaction. However, inaction also carries the almost certain risk of increased HIV infections and deaths from AIDS in the not too distant future.Although there is plenty of room for more research into the situation of MSM in Vietnam, it is already clear that significant populations of MSM exist in the major cities and that their behavior puts them at high risk for HIV infection. With their low perception of that risk, MSM currently have no reason to change their behavior. A program employing peer educators could easily reach a large number of MSM and help them to better understand their risk for acquiring HIV. With an improved comprehension of that risk, MSM in Vietnam would be better motivated and equipped to protect themselves from HIV.

See for full listing.

July 7, 2004 – Viet Nam News

New TV crime series enters gay territory

A novel about the lives of gay men set in Viet Nam that has taken readers by surprise has now been made into a TV series. Mot The Gioi Khong Co Dan Ba (A World Without Women) by former crime journalist Bui Anh Tan, which won first prize in the For The Nation’s Peace and Security writing competition 2002, is being presented in a 10-episode format, as part of the Viet Nam Television’s Crime Police series.

"It is a famous crime novel, which has gained readers’ attention for exploring this sensitive theme," screenwriter Thuy Linh, who adapted the novel for screen, explained. "Moreover, mass media has mentioned much about the world of gay people but there have not been any films made about it."

Directed by Vu Minh Tri, Mot The Gioi Khong Co Dan Ba focuses on the lives of different gay and straight men. The mysterious death of Bang, a famous scientist, means Trung, a policeman, has to go undercover as a gay man to enter the world of crime. Along with his colleagues, Trung finds himself trying to solve a case in an unfamiliar environment ‘without women’. He encounters Hoang, a gay man, who he gets along with so much Trung sometimes becomes confused and wonders if he might in fact be gay too.

"Generally, the novel’s plot remains but it is difficult to show some scenes on screen," said writer Bui Anh Tan. He further explains if the novel revealed more about the lives of gay people using the narrative of a criminal case, then the film focuses more on the criminal aspect. However, some shocking scenes will be limited due to the sensitive theme, according to screenwriter Thuy Linh. Gay people in the film are also diversified – some people wear make-up in a feminine manner, while others look more masculine but are only interested in men.

"Like Hoang’s character, it took me a long time to find a proper actor," said director Vu Minh Tri explaining how difficult it was to cast the film. "I talked with some fashion models but they were all reluctant after several phone calls. Finally, I chose Dao Van Bich, recently graduated from the acting school of Television Film Studio. And I am happy with my decision." To take the role, Bich had to spend a lot of time integrating and mixing within the world of gay people at bars or discotheques.

"It’s an interesting but difficult role," Bich said. "And I don’t care much about what other people think of me. Moreover, it’s good to know about other worlds, which exist right next to us." Other actors in the film are fashion model Minh Tiep, Duc Hiep and Phan Anh. Mot The Gioi Khong Co Dan Ba will be shown on Viet Nam Television this month. – VNS

12 December 2005 – From:

Press Release: Asian Gays and Lesbians Celebrate 10 Years of Online " Utopia "
Pioneering online community looks back on ten years of the Internet revolution that liberated millions of Asia’s gays and lesbians.

Websites seem to have a shorter shelf life than a ripe banana, but one pioneering Internet portal is celebrating a decade of service providing a free, safe and popular online community for millions of homosexuals in Asia.

Utopia, Southeast Asia’s first gay and lesbian center in Bangkok, launched their website on Dec 13, 1995. Director John Goss recalls, "We thought that our real-world business would sponsor a small homepage, but the website quickly grew to become the most popular non-pornographic gay portal in Asia." The Internet has proven to be the perfect medium to reduce the isolation in people’s lives, connecting like-minded folk around the globe. Gays and lesbians were quick adaptors to the World Wide Web because it offered anonymity along with a cornucopia of highly specialized information.

"Ten years ago, homosexuals in most Asian countries were hidden not only from their families and societies but also from each other," Goss recalls. "Utopia’s mission was to provide positive social alternatives to commercial sex venues and help gays and lesbians in the region connect with one another on a friendship basis. The Internet has thrown open Asia’s closets."

A decade on, the Utopia website has become the information crossroads for gays in 17 Asian countries including Vietnam and overlooked countries such as Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Along the way Utopia garnered recognition for its comprehensive resources from mainstream media like Time Magazine, Lonely Planet, and BBC World Service. Founded by partners from Singapore, Thailand and the United States, Utopia has been at the forefront in offering AIDS/HIV and safer sex information in regional languages, contacts for organizations and venues popular with local and visiting gays, and also special resources focused on women.

Utopia also sponsors an annual Utopia Awards recognizing pioneers in the region who have made a positive impact on the daily lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Recipients have included politicians, activists, performers and filmmakers. "Many countries in Asia are struggling to shake off negative views of homosexuality introduced during colonial periods and are rediscovering traditional tolerance of gender and sexual difference," Goss observes. To celebrate its anniversary, Utopia has published the first three volumes in a new series of printed guidebooks assembled from the daily updates and comments that thousands of users post on its website.

The Utopia Guide to China is the first book to detail contemporary gay and lesbian life in 45 Chinese cities. "Thank you for one decade of great links and friendships across the world. Life without friendships is almost like living in a world without the Sun," posts one user, Waipun, on Utopia’s homepage.

For more information, please visit any of the following links:

Utopia Homepage
More about Utopia
Asian Gay & Lesbian News Archive
The 2004 Utopia Awards
The 2003 Utopia Awards
Contact: John Goss Email

February 17, 2007 –

Chung: A new year: Vietnamese and openly gay

by L.A. Chung, Mercury News Columnist
From the window of Vuong Nguyen’s East San Jose home, you can see the kumquats growing in bold orange profusion in her sunny yard. Their abundance is a happy sight on the cusp of the lunar New Year. Nguyen, 64, is looking forward to the new beginnings that come with Tet, marked Sunday with big celebrations among family at home and in San Jose’s annual downtown celebration.
She is focused on what she hopes is truly a new beginning — she and several others marching openly as a group of gay Vietnamese-Americans so that their community can see them as their own.

“The Vietnamese community always thinks there are no homosexuals, no lesbians, no transgender people in their community,” she said. In fact, she believes, lesbians and gays like herself have reached critical mass in the South Bay. “We hope by marching they can see us, that there are `good’ kids, `nice’ persons,” she said. “I hope they can see that.”

Being true, being brave
From the seed of an idea in September, several groups pulled together into an umbrella organization for greater support. Sunday, Vietnamese from San Jose to San Francisco to Orange County and even as far as Texas and Louisiana will join in a parade and 10th annual spring festival. Song That Radio,, O-Moi and the Gay Vietnamese Alliance are members. “We are your children, your brothers and sisters . . . and in some cases, your parents,” said Thanh Do, a member of the new group. The theme they chose, not coincidentally, for the most family-oriented holiday of the year was “Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, we are all family.”

It’s a bold move, not without risk among Vietnamese-Americans, Do said. Often young people hide their sexual orientation from their families, or families hide it from their friends. So many parents push their kids away in fear of clucking judgment from the community. It leads to tragic rifts within families. That’s why some supporters are flying up from Southern California, and from Texas and Louisiana, said Gina Masequesmay, a member of O-Moi, a Vietnamese-American lesbian group based in Orange County. They will take the places of those who just cannot march in their hometown.

“For people who live in San Jose to come out — that is a very big deal,” Masequesmay said. “A lot of people may be out, but they don’t want their family facing the repercussion of other people knowing and talking about their family.”

The bond that binds
Even Nguyen, the “elder sister” of the Vietnamese-American lesbian community, is not immune. She helped found Song That Radio, an hourlong educational program in Vietnamese, on KSJX-AM (1500) seven years ago because they needed an educational bridge between the parents of the Vietnamese-speaking older generation and their closeted children. Last year, she received “Activist of the Year” from the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific American Democratic Club. Song That Radio won two awards for its service from different groups.

Yet it was her mother’s death several years ago that made her freer to operate more openly, she said. Her mother, who had chosen between evacuating her children from Saigon in 1975, and staying with her politician husband in Vietnam, fretted about her daughter’s orientation, Nguyen said, and she was mindful. “My mom had to suffer too much already.” Ultimately, Nguyen concluded, reconciliation just might begin with a walk and a friendly wave in a Sunday morning parade.

Thinking of that bountiful kumquat tree in her yard, I take it as an auspicious sign.

29 May 2007 – PinkNews

British pianist banned from Vietnam

by Amy Bourke
A famous British concert pianist has been banned from performing in Vietnam because officials are worried about his sexuality. Vietnamese authorities refused to grant Stephen Hough a license to play because they thought he would be a security risk, according to The Telegraph. The company who invited him to play in Vietnam, Hennessy, promptly withdrew their invitation to the award-winning musician. The pianist told The Telegraph: "The engagement was booked six months ago and everything was going ahead.

Yesterday I found out that the Ministry for Culture and Information had been to my website and decided that they could not guarantee my personal safety." It is believed that the officials withdrew permission because of an article on Hough’s website which denounces the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality. Hough has been a Roman Catholic since the age of 19, and has often written on his sexuality’s relationship with both his music and his religion.

26th October 2007 – PinkNews

Vietnamese high school pupils accepting of homosexuality

by Joe Roberts
A survey of school children in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s capital, has revealed that a quarter of them believe at least 10% of their class mates are gay. HCMC University of Pedagogy conducted the poll of 300 pupils at three junior high and high schools and discovered that 80% of pupils al said "no" when asked "is homosexuality bad?" Experts believe that while the actual number of gay pupils is difficult to determine, open homosexuality in schools appears to be on the rise, despite still carrying social stigma amongst the adult population. Homosexuality is legal in Vietnam but same-sex marriages are banned and there are no legal protections against discrimination.

Nguyen Thi Tam, director of the Hon Viet Applied Psychology Company, has experienced a rapid increase in the number of 13 to 17-year-olds receiving sexual counselling. "In 2006 every month we provided counselling to 10 teenagers on average. But in the first eight months of this year, the number doubled," she told Thanh Nien News. While children are becoming more open to discussing their sexuality, adults and teachers don’t often know to respond. A mental health counsellor at Hon Viet said that most pupils were lonely and confused when discussing their sexuorientation. Often social pressures and the stigma attached to being gay meant they were depressed, or felt indifferent, rebellious or even suicidal.

Parental reaction was typically unsupportive and many sought advice themselves for shock and depression. Some cried as they discussed their situation. In contrast the survey revealed that most pupils said one was free to choose one’s own sexuality and could not be blamed for his or her sexual orientation. 72% of those with gay classmates said they remained friends after discovering their friends’ sexual orientation. Some 34% said they tried to console their friends, 35% said they kept it secret, and 13% said they were "afraid." Only 2% said they looked at their homosexual friends with contempt.

The HCMC University of Pedagogy organised a recent conference on teenagers’ sexual orientation for teachers, pupils and doctors. It is hoped that more will be held to help raise the issue and make life easier for gay or lesbian teenagers.

29 June 2008 – From Thanh Nien News

Until he came along, homosexuality remained firmly stashed away in the closet in Vietnam. Bui Anh Tan now has many followers.”

by Diem Thu
The first author to broach the sensitive subject of homosexuals in Vietnam, Bui Anh Tan’s critically acclaimed works have lent gays and lesbians a voice in the past decade. After researching the lives of homosexuals for a long time as a reporter, he realized how complicated their world is and that it couldn’t be fully captured in a few newspaper articles.
For years gays and lesbians have been treated as social outcasts and ostracized even by their families. "I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by dealing with such a contentious topic," Tan says. "I simply hope that through my books people will understand more about homosexuals, empathize with them and accept them as they are," he explains. He himself had difficulty in socializing with homosexuals in the beginning, he admits. But he has gradually won their trust and now serves as a kind of confidant to them. In the last ten years he has written several novels and short stories on homosexuals.

“Mot the gioi khong dan ba” (A World Without Women) became a phenomenonal success when it was published in 2000. The country’s first-ever novel on homosexual people, it won the first prize in the "For national security and a peaceful life" writing contest launched by the Vietnam Writers’ Association and the Ministry of Public Security two years later. The novel offers a psychological and humane glimpse into the intricate gay world. Its characters, who come from all walks of life — a student, a policeman, a scientist, a restaurant owner, and an artist — are isolated within their worlds for fear of revealing their true selves and igniting social prejudices. Overwhelmed by loneliness and guilt, they are torn between being who they really are and conforming to the heterosexual "norm." “Mot the gioi khong dan ba” was later adapted into an eponymous 10-episode TV series.

A Canadian film company has also bought the rights to adapt it into a feature. His next novel, also highly successful, was Les – “Vong tay khong dan ong”(Lesbians – The Embrace Without Men). The novel narrates the sufferings and anguish of five lesbians – two high school students, a successful businesswoman, a young lecturer and a middle-aged housewife. Some of his other homosexual writings include “Buom dem” (Moths) and “Phuong phap cua Kinsey” (Kinsey’s methodology) .

“10-year road”
Tan reflects on the years he devoted to writing about homosexuality and the dramatic changes he has undergone. "When I started writing “Mot the gioi khong dan ba”, I didn’t think much about the social impact the book will create," he says. He had a nervous breakdown after the publication of the book as people began to question his sexuality. Gay men came and propositioned him, and several of them even became indignant when he turned them away. He also got stuck while seeking solutions to his subjects’ problems in his first works, he said.
But he came to realize that the more homosexuals engage in "normal" life, the more mental torment they suffer. Now his subjects have matured considerably. They now come out of the closet and are honest about their sexual orientation. Unlike ten years ago, when he mostly associated homosexual relationships with sex, the author now realizes there can actually be love between homosexual partners.

"Exposed to overwhelming loneliness, insecurity and social pressure, they often find sex an emotional outlet," he says. But deep inside them is the normal desire for love and attachment, he says. The 42-year-old, who is still single, says these days he does not bother to justify his sexuality. "If people think I’m gay, it means I’ve done a good job in depicting the gay world." Tan is planning to publish a collection comprising two novels and a short story on homosexuals. One of the novels, “Va ta”, “va em”, “va ca bau troi” (You, I and the Sky), is about true, abiding love between homosexual couples. It is about how the male protagonist, who is of the same age and background as its author and has a heterosexual relationship, reacts when he suddenly realizes his homosexual orientation.

"I’ll continue to write about homosexuals, " Tan says. He is glad that young writers like Trang Ha, Nguyen Quynh Trang and Vu Dinh Giang have begun to write about homosexuality. "They adopt a different approach from mine. Unlike me, they treat the topic quite lightly."

Tan, a major in the Ministry of Public Security, has also written some investigative and historical books, including “Hanh trinh cua soi” (A Wolf’s Journey) based on the criminal life of Nam Cam, a gangster executed some years ago, and his henchmen.

August 2, 2008 – Thanh Nien agencies

Things Looking up for Gay Community in Vietnam

In Vietnam, discrimination is entrenched against homosexuality, though things are changing with more gay people coming out of the closet and setting up support groups. H. is gay. "When I was a child, my favorite games were skipping rope and hopscotch," he says to describe his girlish instincts while growing up. "The more I grew up, the more feminine I became." His family, including his parents, was not comfortable with his sexuality. "Their love for me began to fade. At school, I received no sympathy, but cruel comments from my friends. Since then I have closed my heart and lived in worry, confusion and panic."

H.’s story could apply to virtually any gay person in Vietnam. All of them are in urgent need of society’s care, sympathy and safe sex education, experts warn, since in the international community they are categorized as a group at high-risk of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). But the situation in Vietnam is different. Head of Hanoi’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Department, Le Nhan Tuan, says homosexuals have never been regarded as an at-risk group in the country. In fact, there is very little information about them, with policy makers and the media ignoring them in terms of HIV infection and protection, he says. "This has kept them in the dark about the risk of HIV infection," he says.

"There is no data about the spread of HIV among the group, but it’s certain the rate of infection is not low." The risk is said to be higher since gay men tend to look for others secretly. One of the most common mediums is the Internet, where therisk is very high. A gay man said he used to feel very happy about dating a man 10 years older than him who he met online. But he found out later that the man had sex with many other men, sometimes with seven different people a week.

"Now at 21, I am almost dead since I have HIV," he says. Lao Dong newspaper reports, in fact, that 10 percent of all gay men in Hanoi may have HIV or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In Ho Chi Minh City, according to Tien Phong, the figure could be 9 percent. Lao Dong’s figures are from a survey of 219 gay men done by Donn J. Colby, a University of Washington scholar from the US in 2001. It found 77 percent had sex with men in the past 12 months, and 22 percent with both men and women. Twenty-six percent of them said they never used a condom while having sex with men. Admittedly the situation could be very different now, but current figures are not available.

Sympathy Needed
Tran Thi Nga, head of the Hanoi-based STDs (sexual transmitted diseases), HIV and AIDS Prevention Center, says in addition to the need for safe sex education, homosexual people also need the community’s care, sympathy and support. The fact is that most gay people have to live a miserable life due to discrimination and stigma in what is a traditional Asian society, she says. Those who are open about their sexuality cannot even get an ID card or work for public companies, she says. Gay support groups like Hai Dang (Lighthouse) , Khat Vong Song (Hope to Live) and Bau Troi Xanh (Blue Sky) have been set up in various places around the country.

Their organizers disseminate information about protection from HIV through talks and consultations and through singing, dancing, sports and fashion. Members have to approach other homosexual people at "hot spots" to talk to them about safe sex, advise them to take health tests and even distribute free condoms and brochures. Nguyen Son Minh, one of the founders of Khat Vong Song in Hanoi, says, "Our goal is to help homosexual men meet, be self-confident and contribute to society."

For the members, the clubs could well be a second home where they do not have to hide their true feelings and have the chance to openly share their concerns. With or without support from other organizations, all these groups are making an effort to raise homosexual people’s awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention and to help society understand them better. Dr. Pham Van Khoat, director of the Vietnamese Community Mobilization Center for HIV/AIDS Control (VICOMC), a project supported by the US’ Pact organization, says: "When we get close to gay people’s spiritual life, we feel moved by their simple desires and dreams. Our society is in need of hearts knowing how to share with others."

August 7, 2008 – AFP

Vietnam allows some sex-change surgeries

Hanoi (AFP) — Vietnam has legalised some types of sex change surgery but will let government physicians have the final say on what gender a patient is, a health official in the communist country said Thursday. The decree published this week allows corrective surgery for hermaphrodites and people born with certain genital deformities, but not for people who are physically of one sex and request gender reassignment surgery. "The reassignment of gender for those who are complete in terms of gender" is forbidden, says the text of the decree, which adds that the new measure aims to "ensure that everyone can live in his/her correct gender."

Nguyen Huy Quang, deputy head of the health ministry’s legal department, said the decree "still prohibits sex change for those who are already in their original gender," as determined by medical and genetic testing. The decree would ensure the privacy of, and prohibit discrimination against, people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and also require medical proof when they register with authorities under their new gender. Statistics on people seeking gender reassignment surgery are not available in Vietnam, but several transsexuals are known to have travelled to Thailand to undergo sex-change surgery.

December 2008 – TalkVietnam

Website launched for gay men to reduce spread of HIV

The Family Health International (FHI) launched a website for men who have sex with men (MSM) in an effort to mitigate rates of HIV transmission and sexual transmitted diseases among MSM and their partners, as well as the wider community in Hanoi on Dec. 5. The website also provides information and consultancy services regarding health, gender and sex and how they relate to HIV prevention.

The also expects to call for greater involvement by MSM in activities to prevent the spread of HIV and to reduce discrimination against gay men. Together with, which was launched previously, the new website hopes to help MSM have enough confidence to access HIV prevention and health care services. The two websites form part of an Internet-based intervention programme on sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention among MSM, funded by the US Agency of International Development and the FHI.

January 9, 2009 – PinkNews

Sweden funds project promoting LGBT rights in Vietnam

by Tony Grew
The Swedish embassy in Vietnam has pledged financial support for a new campaign aimed at reducing violence against lesbian women and promoting human rights for sexual minorities.
The Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Women and Adolescents will receive SEK 2.7 million (£223,000) for the project. Earlier this week an agreement was signed between the Centre and the Swedish embassy’s development cooperation section head, Marie Ottosson.

Homosexuality is legal in Vietnam but same-sex marriages are banned and there are no legal protections against discrimination. "In line with the Swedish Government’s policy, which was adopted recently, this is a project aimed at promoting the human rights in Vietnam with a special focus on the rights of the lesbian, gay, bi and trans persons (LGBT) and in particular the rights of the lesbians," the embassy said.

"The project will also focus on male behaviours in the combat against domestic violence. This support will also aim at strengthening the work and building capacity within the organisation, which will lead to a strong voice in the emerging civil society in Vietnam. The proposed activities foresee cooperation with Swedish experts and NGOs."

The project aims to create a safe environment and the acceptance of society for lesbians’ existence in Vietnam as well as improve men’s attention and participation in preventing domestic violence.

Ms Ottosson said: "By supporting the project, Sweden is contributing to the capacity building of the civil society and promoting the values of human rights in Vietnam. The support also ensures the translation of vulnerable people’s needs into rights and we are proud to take part in this pioneer work.

February 08, 2009 –

We are family, too: Vietnamese gays and lesbians join San Jose’s Tet parade

by Jessie Mangaliman
Dressed in a form-fitted black tuxedo, holding a bridal bouquet of white roses specked with yellow and red orchids, Annie Nguyen beamed, surrounded by men in colorful traditional Vietnamese wedding attire.
For the 50-year-old factory supervisor and mother of five, the short march in downtown San Jose’s 12th annual Vietnamese Spring Festival and Parade marked a personal milestone.

Two years ago, after decades of being in the closet, the San Jose woman came out to her husband and children. On Sunday, standing behind a sign in Vietnamese and English that said, "Love and support ALL of your children," Nguyen made a public declaration and appeal: "You could lead two lives: one out, one hidden. But you’ll not be part of your family. Parents should accept their children."

Nguyen was one of 40 Vietnamese gays and lesbians from the Bay Area and other parts of California who marched during the traditional annual celebration of Tet, the lunar new year. It was only the second time in the parade’s history that gays and lesbians marched openly — and the first time that families joined them. For Vietnamese gay and lesbian groups, the event signaled a new kind of visibility and openness in a culture that traditionally views homosexuality as shameful — and something to hide.

Nguyen’s son Kevin Pham stood nearby. "I did a double take when I saw her," Pham, 21, said. "I’m getting adjusted to the idea. I’m glad for her that she is happy." The Tet parade is the most mainstream of occasions. On Sunday, beauty queens and City Council members rode in restored antique cars, as marching bands blared and marchers waved American and South Vietnamese flags. Hundreds of people cheered along the five-block parade route on Market Street.

The gay and lesbian Vietnamese group that marched with Nguyen was also led by a flag bearer, who waved the rainbow flag. "Gay or straight, we’re part of families," said Vuong Nguyen, who is not related to Annie Nguyen. "We would like to come out with pride and lead our lives in the open." For fear of alienating families, very few people marched last year, said Vuong Nguyen, 66, one of the founders of Song That, a Vietnamese gay and lesbian radio program on San Jose’s KSJX-AM (1500). Many family members and heterosexual allies who marched Sunday declared their support for same-sex marriage.

"We have to recognize them as part of our society," said Tammy Hong, who is straight and married but who dressed up in a black tuxedo and posed for the parade as Annie Nguyen’s same-sex partner. "I’m here because of Prop 8. and because I believe in equal rights," said Hong, a friend of Nguyen. Gay rights supporters are asking the courts to overturn Proposition 8, the narrowly approved November ballot initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California. Thanh Do, co-chair of the Gay Vietnamese Alliance, a support group in San Jose and Orange County, said the call for inclusion and family acceptance at Sunday’s parade has a message for a new generation of Vietnamese gays and lesbians.

"You may have not have known it, but we’ve always been part of your community," Do said. "We’re in your life. We hope that message will make it easier for young kids coming out." For most of her life, Annie Nguyen kept her sexuality hidden. In Vietnamese and many Asian cultures, she said, there is a strong held tradition that women should marry and have children. Nguyen said she followed that path, until she fell in love with another woman. She has since separated from her husband but found support from her children. But not all her relatives are happy about her decision to come out, she said. "I’ve been denying myself, my feelings," she said, looking down to inspect the bouquet she was holding. "I just had enough."

Contact Jessie Mangaliman at or (408) 920-5794.

27 February 2009 –

Your say

Joint effort needed to curb prejudice, encourage men to use social services
Last week we asked if readers think discrimination and stigma are reasons why only 10 per cent of MSM (men who have sex with men) in Viet Nam use public health services. We also asked what readers think should be done to change that. These are some of the answers we received.

Nguyen Chung Tai, Ha Noi HIV carrier

I’m not surprised by these numbers because the real numbers are always more than those published in reports by the UN or other organisations. It is understandable that many gay men find it hard to come out, especially those who are infected with HIV. Other people still keep their conservative thinking toward gay people, mostly older generations.

Another problem, in my opinion, is the "easy" lifestyle of a great part of the gay community. Their habit of not being faithful to one partner but changing partners regularly plays an important role in spreading HIV/AIDS in the MSM community particularly and in society in general. How can we change that? I think this depends on both sides. On the one hand, the gay community should recognise that they need to maintain a healthier lifestyle. On the other hand, society needs to change their attitude towards gay people, stop looking at them with disgust.

The Ministry and departments of Health need to create and apply more practical programmes to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. Current efforst are too short-term and unrealistic. At the same time, our education system needs to insert sex education into teaching programmes for secondary school and above, because our students are no longer as innocent as before living in the internet era. Schools need to play an important role in teaching students how to live a healthy and pratical lifestyle and families need to start talking about sex to their children. Internet is a great school for the kids, but letting them surf the internet by themselves is dangerous.

Nguyen Thanh My Actionaid Brussels Belgium

In my opinion, gay people, both women and men, rarely use health services because they are afraid of the discrimination from their families and society. There are many people who think homosexuality is a sickness. As a result, it’s very difficult for the homosexuals to lead a normal life. The more they hide themselves, the less they use social services.

To improve this, I think we need to have a wide and appropriate information and education programme so that MSM understand their rights and can receive the necessary information about the social services available to them. This programme should also target greater public awareness to encourage sympathy and understanding that will hopefully encourage the gay community to be more open and more willing to use social services. As for the health service, it should offer comfortable and sensitive access. High confidentiality is very important.

Dinh Thai Son, Ha Noi FHI Viet Nam

As a supervisor and manager to HIV prevention activities for the MSM community in some big cities in Viet Nam, I realise that the greatest obstacle to encouraging MSM from using health services is discrimination. We need to focus on educating and training people working in these services about the mentality and sensitivity of the people they are dealing with. It takes time to change public opinion, so social administration agencies should pay more attention to leading people’s positive awareness of MSM, as well as supporting strong projects and programmes working on HIV prevention and intervention for this group of people.

Tom Miller, California

It would be wise for the Government and society to "bite the bullet" since this is not "their" problem, it is "our" problem. Excluding the gay community from our thinking and action excludes people we know and love, and the sooner we can accept "gayness" as a reality and a legitimate part of our society and not a threat, the sooner the healing – physical and psychological – will occur. This is asking many to make a big step since all their lives the idea of homosexuality has been reinforced as evil. American writer and social critic Mark Twain once said "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." The same can be said about getting to know the gay community.

Joshua Riedel, Ha Noi

In addition to overcoming general discrimination against gays in Ha Noi and HCM City, it seems to me that a more immediate and feasible issue to confront and overcome is improving the channels of communication within the gay community. Even if access to health services is limited in Viet Nam due, in part, to the general population’s discrimination against gay men, the 10 per cent of gay men who do take advantage of the health services offered should share their information with the other 90 per cent of men who do not use those services, helping to introduce them to gay-friendly clinics and doctors. With the assistance and encouragement of others within the gay community, perhaps men who do not currently think they have access to health services would come to discover that it is possible to stay healthy and gay in Viet Nam.

Dr Nick Medland, Viet Nam Chair MSM Subcommittee HIV/AIDS Technical Working Group

Evidence from around the world, and increasingly from Viet Nam, suggests that MSM feel stigmatised and discriminated against in daily life and when coming into contact with services and with other authorities. Many go through life trying to avoid such contact and actively try to stay hidden. Reaching out with information, education, support, assistance and health care is that much more difficult. We know well how MSM can protect themselves and their partners from HIV infection: to be well informed about condom use and HIV prevention; to feel confident and strong enough in their own hearts to want to protect themselves; to be able to go to a health service in a supportive and safe environment for an HIV test from time to time; to receive the support and friendship of their peers.

Viet Nam has been doing amazing work in a short period of time to help prevent the rapid spread of HIV infection that we have seen in neighbouring countries. However, this is just a beginning and an enormous amount is yet to be done. We support and applaud the work of the government in this. There are a lot of inspiring individuals and groups doing great work in MSM communities. We need to be open in our support for them. The press and our leaders need to give the message that we will take care of every member of our society, that it’s OK to be gay. Then, and only then, will we have a chance to reduce the threat that the HIV epidemic poses to each and every one of us.

Nathalie Miller, Ha Noi Entrepreneurs du Monde, Country Director

I’m not sure if MSM’s lack of access to HIV/AIDS health service is reflective of homophobia. The driving force of spreading HIV/AIDS in Viet Nam is intravenous drug use (IDU); although the liaison between HIV/AIDS and drug use has diminished in recent years in Viet Nam, the link is irrefutable. The lack of access to HIV/AIDS health services that you noted with MSM populations is also prevalent among IDU populations who are not, of course, all men having sex with men – so I would hesitate to argue that the reason behind this phenomenon is homophobia. That said, there is definitely ongoing stigma in Viet Nam against gay men – and perhaps more so against gay women, a group that you didn’t include in your question.

In Viet Nam, where kinship is of utmost importance and pressure lies on children to continue the family line, discrimination against gay people might also center around this idea that being gay means a departure from the "family" as it is normally understood. Yet gay men and women have always been parents and will continue to be parents, which is important for Vietnamese people to realise. — VNS

18 March, 2009 – Thanhnien News

Fringe films
– Some bold new filmmakers including a young disabled scriptwriter are set to have their work broadcast in Vietnam this year.

by Ngoc Bi – Lam Vien
Production houses and TV stations in Vietnam are taking a fresh look at taboo issues thanks to a new generation of young filmmakers and scriptwriters. Many young independent documentary makers are having their work broadcast for the first time in March as Vietnam Television’s VTV6 channel holds its Thang phim tai lieu (month of documentaries) program, while the filming of a TV series by a young scriptwriter with cerebral palsy starts in May.

New breed of documentary makers
Most of the filmmakers screened on VTV6 this month are young and lack the technical know-how of veteran documentary makers, but their work offers insight into the lives of people on society’s fringe. The riveting, touching films candidly portray subjects such as HIV sufferers and transsexuals, calling for understanding and expressing hope for the future.

The film Neu con co ngay mai (If there is tomorrow) by young director Duong Mong Thu, aired earlier this month, portrays the lives of HIV/AIDS patients and those affected by the deadly disease. Ngoc dies of AIDS after transmitting the disease to his wife and children who now suffer constant discrimination; 65- year-old Phan, whose children have all died of the disease, is the only family her sick orphaned five-year-old grandson has to cling to; and Sa Le contracted HIV when he was working in Cambodia one unlucky night.

Hanh trinh cai mu (The journey to live true to oneself), broadcast last Sunday, provides a poignant close-up of the lives of transsexuals. Through his film, director Vo Anh Can wants people to accept transsexuals as they are and treat them fairly and with respect. As a child, Vy felt he wasn’t meant to be a male and increasingly yearned to be a woman, but he was tortured by thoughts of becoming a social outcast if he revealed his sexual orientation. Finally, he decided to be true to himself and underwent painful, expensive gender reassignment surgery.

Despite harsh discrimination, Vy is determined to lead a good life and support herself as a model. The gripping, deeply moving documentary received instant acceptance and won a Certificate of Recognition in the short film category at the 2008 Canh dieu vang (Golden Kite) awards earlier this month.

Uoc mo cua Thuy (Thuy’s dreams), directed by duo Minh Thuy and Thi Ngon captures the last days of Le Thanh Thuy, a strong teenage girl who battled cancer while she completed high school in Ho Chi Minh City.

Phan Huynh Trang’s P.A portrays an ambitious art student named Phan Phuong Anh in a documentary about breaking away from conventional thinking to be successful.

Chuyen ke duoi mai chua (The story about a pagoda) directed by Nguyen Tan Hoang tells about a monk named Thien Chieu, who takes care of neglected, disabled children at the Ky Quang Pagoda in HCMC’s Go Vap District.

“Happiness is hard-earned” is the film’s message. The film will be broadcast on VTV6 on March 29.

Young TV scriptwriter
Dang Dinh Quy, a senior in Tourism Management at the Yersin Da Lat University was born with cerebral palsy and has difficulty walking and talking. Filming of some of his scripts will start this year.
He said he was first inspired to write when he read the work of a Vietnamese director. “At 19, I read the script of the award-winning film Bao gio cho den thang muoi (When the tenth month comes) by acclaimed director Dang Nhat Minh.”

“Along with doing my studies, I began writing the script called Nhung mua he da qua (Long past summers) which will be made into a film soon.” The aspiring student is finishing a script for a 19- episode series Con duong moi (The new road) – a story about how faith breaks down barriers.

According to Quy, the Vietnam Television Series Co. will begin filming Con duong moi in May. Quy is also working on another 30-episode script Mua hoa anh dao (The cherry blossom season) as a thank-you to the highland resort of Da Lat where he lives.

05 December, 2009 – Thanhnien News

‘Open’ exhibit targets closed hearts and minds – any visitors stood looking at a frame with the words “I’ll turn left, mother.”

by Pham Thu Nga
Many visitors stood looking at a frame with the words “I’ll turn left, mother.” These words are from a letter famous among the community of lesbians in Vietnam, written by a girl to tell her mother the truth about her being gay. The last week’s exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 featuring pictures of gays and lesbians was themed “Open”, with the aim of reducing prejudice against people based on their sexual preferences.
A total 56 works of art were displayed with the message “honoring the variety of life, love and sexes.”

It was organized by the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE) in cooperation with the volunteer group Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS). ISEE director Le Quang Binh said, “’Open’ means opening our heart to accept the diversity of life and ending discrimination against homosexual and lesbian people so that they will open their heart to the world around.” For lots of young people, the exhibition could have been the first time they saw the “third world” in close up without “a safe, rough mask to hide emotions inside” as artist Himiko Nguyen wrote in her blog.

A series of pictures themed “The mask” by Nguyen Tran Minh Duc also expressed the same idea. “Togetherness” showed two boys holding hands, while “Happiness” revealed a lesbian couple kissing. “Love” had a pair of shoes standing next to each other. Dang Linh, artist of the series called “Living in the Rainbow”, said, “This 3D graphic design of mine won a prize at my school when I was studying colors.

“I showed people living in a tent of seven rainbow colors. At that time, I meant to express my idea about the world of homosexual people; and of course, my school didn’t know what I was implying.” About her picture of two people holding hands taken from behind, Himiko Nguyen said, “I took the photos while I was working in South Korea. I didn’t care whether they were homosexual or heterosexual people; but their holding hands brings a feeling of warmth and sweet love.” The photos have been on display at an exhibition in South Korea and will be displayed in Germany this month (December).

2009 December 18 – RFA

Vietnamese ‘Still in Closet’
– Gay men facing prejudice in Vietnam organize an increasingly effective support network

Bangkok—Communist-ruled Vietnam is home to an increasingly vibrant gay community, but homosexual men who "come out" and acknowledge their orientation are still subject to social stigma and workplace discrimination. Hanoi-based college student Vu Tung is one of a growing minority of openly gay men, and currently runs a support group for men who have sex with men in the capital.

"In reality, in Vietnam, the issue of homosexuality is not talked about, except by only a few groups like the transgendered, or those who are openly gay," Tung said. "The openly gay community runs into a lot of difficulties, like the inability to find work in government agencies and companies," he added.

Instead, men who have sex with men tend to keep their preferences secret, even from close friends and family, living lives that appear to conform to heterosexual norms. "If we come out, the first reaction we will have to face will come from our families," Tung said. "Those who are in school will run into difficulties there in the form of discrimination, isolation, and an inability to fit in and be accepted by classmates."

Nguyen Chung Tai, a volunteer at another Hanoi-based support group for men who have sex with men, said most members of the gay community in Vietnam are still not openly gay, and many cave in to strong social pressure to marry. "Many men whom I… help as a consultant are actually gay and don’t want to get married, but still do because of family pressure," Tai said. "In one of the cases… a gay man who had to get married said that on his wedding night he was disgusted by just looking at his bride. He did not have any feelings of love for her. After six months living together, they filed for a divorce," he said.

Gays and the law
The nongovernmental organization Care estimates that between 50,000 and 125,000 men in Vietnam prefer male sexual partners.
Vietnam has no law banning homosexuality nor any law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexuality, but while the Vietnamese media cover homosexuality more frequently, gay men are often referred to as "sick" or victims of a trend. College student Le Thu Huyen, a college student in Hanoi, said she believes homosexual orientation is a matter of choice.

"To me they are not normal. I don’t like people who are like that because they express themselves and dress so strangely," Huyen said. "Some of them look so disgusting and so openly gay. Nobody can accept them here," she said. However, in a 2007 survey conducted by the University of Pedagogy in Vietnam’s southern Ho Chi Minh City, 80 percent of students polled answered "no" to the question, "Is homosexuality bad?" Most students responded that each person is entitled to his or her sexual orientation or that being gay is not a choice.

Outreach efforts
Most gay support groups operate independently and receive financial assistance from NGOs. Bui Xuan Ha, manager of the Hai Dang Gay Men’s Organization, said his group is trying to make new contacts, as well as provide guidance about the use and distribution of condoms, ointments, and information pamphlets. "Through these activities we can better understand the risks of individual members and provide them with good health-care services," he said.

Vietnamese authorities initially interfered with the activities of groups like Hai Dang because they believed the groups existed only as "homosexual love clubs." According to Hai Dang counselor Nguyen Van Nam, "they didn’t understand our activities or our purpose." "Our second difficulty has been that our members and volunteers still suffer discrimination from the rest of society. Only recently have we seen less prejudice as a result of our efforts to educate the public," he said.

"Most gay men prefer to stay closeted, so they don’t come to us, or they prefer to come to us in a secretive way. It is partly due to their lack of education and partly due to a fear of exposure," Nam said. "They fear that other people may find out about them and that their families may find out about them. They also fear that their friends may find out about them and that their organizations or workplaces may find out about them and fire them," he said.

Battling HIV
According to the United Nations, around one-tenth of the 26,000 gay men in Hanoi were infected with HIV in 2008, while a recent U.S. State Department Human Rights report said Vietnam’s homosexual community exists largely underground. The gay community in Vietnam was only officially recognized after HIV-AIDS appeared in the country during the early 1990s, when the government issued a number of decrees aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. In 2002, the Ministry of Labor, a disabled veterans organization, and other civil groups launched a campaign to categorize homosexuality as a "social evil" to be abolished, much like prostitution and drug abuse.

Soon after, the Central Executive Committee of the Communist party issued Order 54, which officially listed the MSM, or Men who have Sex with Men, community as at risk for contracting HIV-AIDS. In a report released in June this year, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that homosexual conduct is not criminalized in much of East Asia because many governments refuse to acknowledge that it exists. But gay men in China were considered criminally negligent for soliciting in public places until the removal of a reference to "hooliganism" from the country’s criminal code in 1997.

Homosexuality wasn’t removed from the official list of mental disorders until 2001. Human Rights Watch said the spread of HIV often made conversations about sexuality possible for the first time, opening the door to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender activism in many countries. Original reporting by Viet Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.