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Vietnamese pre-modern culture recounts suggest that sexuality was viewed as wholesome and in harmony with nature, with local festivals encouraging sexual exploration and activity to promote fertility and prosperity. The first recorded discussions of homosexual practice, transgender expression and cross-dressing as sins came from Western literature, by French colonialists who wrote about the indigenous culture of the region in the late 19th century. Derogatory language towards LGBT persons is still entrenched with such heritage, as the most commonly used slur “pédé” derives from the French word “pédéraste”.

Urban centres grew as part of the modernization of Viet Nam in the 20th century, giving LGBT people places to gather. Communities of sexual and gender minorities became more socially visible. The recent socialist reconstruction movement highly emphasized relations outside of marriage as illicit and immoral, suppressed sexual education and carried a tight control on female sexuality. As a highly patriarchal society, non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity are traditionally viewed and discussed as male homosexuality. Male-to-female transgender identity and expression are more visible and repelled in the community. Female homosexuality might not be as contentious as long as the woman conforms to the social norm of building a family (marrying a man and raising children).

Traditional perceptions of sex, sexuality and family in Vietnam make families generally hostile to LGBT individuals. There are no support hotlines and a lack of information. For a long period, the media was extremely hostile towards LGBT people and their issues, a relevant reason for social disapproval in the communist country, featuring coverage that was sensational and filled with inaccurate information.

While discrimination persists, some improvements have been achieved through the use of community media channels – particularly international media sources and the internet – by LGBTI groups and allies.

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Viet Pride, the first-ever Pride event in Vietnam, took place with a bicycle march across the capital of Hanoi in 2012. Not Only Voices was there during the 2015 Pride. After the lift of penalties towards symbolic same-sex marriages, a wave of ceremonies started taking place in provinces far from the more diversity-accepting big city centres like Ho Chi Min City and Hanoi. These weddings were frequently covered by the media and contributed to raise awareness and visibility of the community. The social and political environment is still not as aware of gender-diverse people. While lesbian and gay people usually tend to remain their sexuality hidden (studies estimate up to 5% of them come out to family and friends), trans people are more targeted, and face severe discrimination in the fields of education, employment and health-care.

In the past few years, the LGBT community in Vietnam has grown stronger: a number of civil society organizations and advocates have emerged to discuss the rights and claims of LGBT people across the country. The movement has surged from on-line groups that formed and promoted networks connecting LGBT people. They have achieved important milestones lately, amidst a critical human rights situation in general, given the country’s lack of basic freedoms for its citizens and endemic official corruption.

 

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  • Being LGBT in Asia – USAID. Vietnam, Country Report.

  • Organizations 
    Information Connecting and Sharing aims to empower the community and raise social awareness about LGBT rights; motivate LGBT people and their families to take part in social mobilization; advocate for changes in the law to protect LGBT people from prejudice and discrimination; and provide information, counseling and other services to support LGBT people and their families.
    PFLAG is an organization directed at parents and friends of LGBT persons who have been unable to turn to their own community and social network for support, and who have been faced with social stigma and self-stigma. PFLAG Vietnam aims to provide parents and friends of LGBT persons with a credible source of information and knowledge about homosexuality; to create opportunities for them to network, share and seek mutual support; and to develop ideas and initiatives to support their sons and daughters and address social stigma against LGBT persons.
    The Institute for Social and Economic Environment (iSee), a non-profit group supporting the rights of minority groups in Vietnam, has LGBTQ rights as one of their main areas of focus. They aim to ensure a fair representation of LGBT issues in the media, to shift public perception, and to engage closely with government to influence policy and legislation on LGBTQ issues.
    Carmah focuses on the sexual health of the LGBT population, with the active participation of the queer community not only as beneficiaries, but also as service providers. Trainings and meetings with experts in the field of sexual health are a regular feature of work at CARMAH. Their current main projects are: PrEP awareness campaign; online sexual health surveys; sexual health promotion and intervention for young MSM and trans persons; and needs assessments for LGBT youth.
    In 2012, Viet Pride debuted with a kick-start event followed by indoor activities such as film screenings, research presentations, and a bicycle rally that attracted almost 200 people riding to support the LGBT cause. Together with the rising LGBT movement in Vietnam and around the world, Viet Pride has grown and expanded. It now takes place in 17 cities and provinces across Vietnam, attracted around 700 bikers last year in Hanoi, and is reported on by many mainstream media channels.
    This Youtube-based sitcom became a viral hit in Vietnam, often garnering more than 1 million views per episode. Written, directed by, and starring 21-year-old film student Dang Khoa, the show chronicles the lives of young gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in Ho Chi Minh City in a breezy style, complete with canned laughter. Most significantly, the characters on the show aren't struggling with their identities in any way, in stark contrast to Viet TV where LGBT character are relegated to being either tragic figures or comic-relief sidekicks.


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