Demonstrators hold Vietnam’s 1st gay pride parade

Posted on August 5, 2012


Any move to legalise gay marriage would make Vietnam the first nation in Asia to do so (AFP, Hoang Dinh Nam)

HANOI, Vietnam — More than 100 demonstrators rode bicycles and motorbikes through Vietnam’s capital Sunday in the country’s first-ever gay pride parade, spurred by an unexpected government proposal to recognize same-sex couples in law.

The parade to raise awareness of Vietnam’s gay and lesbian community and call for equal rights began in scorching heat at Hanoi’s national stadium Sunday morning and ended about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away at a downtown park. Demonstrators trailed rainbow-colored streamers and shouted “Equal rights for gays and lesbians!” and “We support same-sex marriage!”

It was a scene that was unimaginable a few years ago, when Vietnam still labeled homosexuality a “social evil” alongside drug addiction and prostitution. The country’s gay community was once so underground that few groups or meeting places existed, and it was taboo to even talk about the issue.

But Vietnam’s state-controlled media now explores gay issues, and the Justice Ministry recently proposed including same-sex couples in its overhaul of the country’s marriage law – positioning Vietnam to be the first country in Asia to allow same-sex couples to marry or legally register. The new law could provide rights such as owning property, inheriting and adopting children.

Demonstrators said Sunday the proposal is a victory even if the government does not end up legalizing same-sex marriage.

“Change needs time,” said Hoang Duc Duy, a 21-year-old banking student. “It’s good to speak out and do something.”

Several demonstrators said that Vietnamese society is starting to accept same-sex relationships, but stigmas persist and some gays and lesbians are afraid to publicly admit their sexual orientation.

“Many Vietnamese still believe that gay people don’t exist in Vietnam,” said Nguyen Thanh Tam, a 25-year-old parade organizer.

Globally, 11 countries have legalized same-sex marriage since the Netherlands became the first to do so in 2001. President Barack Obama provided hope for many couples worldwide after announcing his support for it earlier this year, but the issue has remained largely off the table across Asia, where being gay can result in prison sentences in some countries.

The Vietnamese government seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom.

Vietnam is socially conservative, but the government restricts the kind of politicized religious movements that push back against same-sex marriage in other countries. Gay pride events also seem to pose little threat to the Communist Party’s dominance.


Vietnam holds first gay pride parade

HANOI — Dozens of cyclists decorated with balloons and rainbow flags streamed through the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Sunday for the first-ever gay pride parade in the communist state.

The event, organised by the city’s small but growing Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, went ahead peacefully with no attempt by police to stop the colourful convoy of about 100 activists.

“It’s time to eliminate discrimination against people of different sexuality. I am straight, but my cousin is a lesbian,” said participant Kyle Tran, 19, wearing a red headband saying “I love LGBT”.

Homosexuality remains largely taboo in communist Vietnam, where Confucian social mores — with their emphasis on tradition and family — still dominate.

Gays are routinely portrayed in the media as comical figures or as people suffering from a condition that can be treated.

But in a surprise move late last month, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong said that it might be time to consider a change in the law to recognise same-sex marriage.

Vietnam currently forbids same-sex unions. Any move to legalise gay marriage would make Vietnam the first nation in Asia to do so.

“There is a lot of attention on gay rights issues now,” parade participant Le Minh, 21, told AFP as she attached a rainbow flag to her bicycle.

“There were (many) questions about gay marriage at the recent National Assembly session. It is really good for the community,” she said.

Activists said they had modified the parade route after coming under pressure from police to avoid sensitive areas of the capital where anti-China demonstrations were taking place.

“We don’t have permission for this and even if we had asked for official permission it would not have been possible,” said participant Van Anh, 51.

“But we have a lot of support from Vietnamese society. Many people told me they want to attend the parade,” she added.


A Coming-Out Party in Hanoi

HONG KONG – It wasn’t much of a parade, as these things go. More like a noisy bike ride with some balloons. But the gathering of about 100 gay Vietnamese in Hanoi on Sunday was still a proud declaration of sorts, a kind of political coming-out in the socially conservative country.

Gay rights advocates in Vietnam have been encouraged in recent weeks by the news that the government is considering draft legislation that would allow same-sex marriages or legal unions.

Proposals are expected to be discussed at the National Assembly meeting in the spring, according to the official Vietnam News Service. If a same-sex marriage law is adopted, it would be the first in Asia.

News reports on Sunday said the bike ride was the first gay pride parade ever to be held in Vietnam. Not exactly. A large gay parade, while not overtly political, was held in the resort town of Vung Tau a decade ago. Homosexuales desfilan en Vietnam por primera vez en la historia: Hanói (AFP). La policía no…

– PAIRSonnalites | ES (@PairsonnalitesE) August 6, 2012

The Associated Press reported that the bike ride wound its way 6 miles through central Hanoi. (The capital, in the north, is more restrained and more politically doctrinaire than Ho Chi Minh City, the southern metropolis also known as Saigon. Life in Saigon has typically been more open and freewheeling.)

The A.P. said the demonstrators in Hanoi “trailed rainbow-colored streamers and shouted ‘Equal rights for gays and lesbians!’ and ‘We support same-sex marriage!’ ”

“Many Vietnamese still believe that gay people don’t exist in Vietnam,” said Nguyen Thanh Tam, 25, one of the parade organizers.

The opening of the Vietnamese economy to the outside world has prodded the state to address a range of social issues that were long familiar to the West. At one point, homosexuality, while never illegal in Vietnam, was listed among the nation’s odious “social evils.”

“The global, open-market policy says a rising tide lifts all boats,” Le Quoc Bao, a social worker in Ho Chi Minh City, told me in 2002. “Well, it has lifted our boat, too. The gay boat.”

Startling increases in HIV infections and AIDS deaths over the past 15 years also has forced government and Communist Party social engineers to view homosexuality in a serious, policy-minded way. The days of dismissing gay Vietnamese as a small subset of misguided deviants under the sway of Western social forces, well, those days are over.

“The proposal to legalize same-sex marriage is already a big step forward,” Nguyen Minh Thuyet, a former lawmaker, told the state-run newspaper Thanh Nien. “Just a few years ago, such an idea ran into fierce opposition from lawmakers and politicians.”

Vietnam remains a conservative nation, still mindful of its core Confucian values that emphasize obedience to elders and a devotion to family. Bringing shame or causing a family to lose face is regarded as the worst sort of behavior for a son or daughter.

One young man was quoted in a recent survey of gay youth conducted by the sociologist Le Quang Binh: “My father beat me, saying: ‘I won’t accept a homo in my house. You were born a real boy, I cared for you like the rest of my children, why do you do this to me?’ ”

A transgender respondent in the survey said: “Day in and day out my parents bugged me about my gender problem. They scolded me, saying they could not accept a son like this. They said, ‘You’re something else, you’re not a human being.’ They insulted me every day. It was terrible.”

Ten years ago, I was a Hanoi-based correspondent and reported on the nascent emergence of homosexuals into the wider society. Homosexuals were then scorned, ridiculed, physically beaten, excommunicated from families. Sometimes they were even feared as being diseased.

Ly Minh Hang, a government psychologist, ran a Hanoi hotline for troubled young people at the time. She said her staff included “experts” who counseled confused youngsters about sexuality and other coming-of-age questions. She told me then:

“Most gay people have been badly affected by newspapers and other bad materials. We gradually lead them back to the right way of thinking. We remind them of their families and the traditions of Vietnam.

“We told them homosexuality is just a bad habit and it will affect their studies,” Ms. Hang said. “They will need good jobs, and if they keep on with this attitude they may end up serving in a bia om, and their life will go to hell – or worse.”

A bia om – the words translate literally to “beer hug” – is a bar where the waitresses and hostesses are usually prostitutes.

That was then, and that was Hanoi. Southern Vietnam was different. There was Tuesday-night dancing at the Sam Son Discotheque in Saigon’s District 1, a gathering that proceeded with a wink and a nod from the local police. Gay men would meet in a small park near the airport, at a downtown ice-cream shop, or in private rooms at the Star Sauna.

Gay Saigonese also took group vacations to the beach towns of Phan Thiet and Vung Tau. They dressed in women’s clothes and put on skits and plays. Sometimes they held mock wedding ceremonies.

“It’s all very open,” Mr. Bao told me. “We stay in guesthouses. The owners don’t object. They love it. They want the money.'”

So, things seem to be changing, perhaps even quickly, given the same-sex marriage legislation. As Thanh Nien reported last month:

A gay couple in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang recently exchanged wedding vows at a ceremony attended by their parents and hundreds of guests; a lesbian couple in Ca Mau Province only halted their wedding in February after authorities objected; a lesbian couple in Hanoi and a gay couple in Ho Chi Minh City too grabbed headlines after photos of their weddings and celebrations went viral online.

Increasingly in a society driven by Confucian social mores and where singers are fined for wearing skimpy clothes on stage, gay and lesbian couples are confronting social disdain and legal constraints by coming out and declaring their orientation.

New York Times