Health Ministry Took A Stand Against “Conversion Therapy” In Vietnam

Vietnam's Health Minister ends conversion therapy.

Earlier this month, Vietnamese Health Ministry issued a statement condemning and banning the practice of trying to "cure" a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ rights advocates around the world celebrated this news, as it represents a big step forward for LGBTQ rights in Vietnam.

 Why The "Leave With Pride" Campaign Was So Important

This major breakthrough for the LGBTQ community would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of activists and allies. 

Linh Ngo

According to Linh Ngo, director of the ICS Center, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, the Ministry of Health's announcement could not have been made without the fight for the demedicalisation of queerness that was launched last November through iSEE's "Leave with Pride" campaign.

This campaign called on the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam to affirm that LGBTQ identity is not a disease. And last April, WHO-Vietnam representative Kidong Park issued a statement to support the campaign and the end of the medicalization of queerness.A few months later, the Ministry of Health took a stand in favor of LGBTQ+ people, asking health workers to stop treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease.

Vietnam's Health Ministry Calls For Change 

In its statement, Vietnam's Health Minister outlined five broad guidelines for the health care system based on the removal of homosexuality and transgender identity from the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases on May 17, 1990 that could help uprooting anti-LGBT beliefs.

The guidelines urge:

  • healthcare providers not to treat LGBTQ identity as a disease
  • not interfere or force treatment
  • to make sure medical providers receive adequate education on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • to ensure that mental health services are provided only by experts in gender and sexual identity
  • to strengthen oversight and inspection of medical facilities to ensure that they are complying with the new standards

"Do not consider homosexuality, bisexuality, or being transgender a disease," the document reads.

"Do not coerce members of these groups into medical treatment. If any, only provide psychiatric help, which must be conducted by experts with knowledge of gender identities."

It adds that when medical professionals undertake medical care for LGBTQ+ patients, they "must be fair and respectful of their sexuality and must not discriminate against these groups."

"We cannot overstate how big a fix this announcement is," Kyle Knight, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian. "While attitudes won't change overnight, this marks a huge paradigm shift. As the most trusted source of medical authority in Vietnam, the impact on social perceptions of queerness will be enormous."

"The myth that homosexuality is diagnosable has been allowed to permeate and percolate Vietnamese society," Knight added. "It is an underpinning factor in medical malpractice against LGBTQ+ youth."

It remains to be seen how this decision will be applied, as it is not very clear at the moment. 

The Reality Of LGBTQ+ Youth In Vietnam 

Recently, the Center for Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI) noted an alarming trend of medical clinics offering "conversion therapy" to members of the LGBTQ community, in part due to pressure from family members who do not accept their loved one's sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is truly heartbreaking to hear that Nguyen Thi Kim Dung of SCDI has received messages from LGBTQ+ people who have been taken to the hospital by family members to have them undergo "conversion therapy."

It must be said that from a young age, LGBTQ+ youth face stigma and discrimination at home and school, with their teachers and parents often teaching them that being gay, bi, trans, or queer is a mental illness.

According to the 2015 report "Is it because I am LGBT?", one in five LGBTQ+ Vietnamese have been forced to see a doctor to "cure their illness."

And of those surveyed, 9.7% said their family had called in a shaman to "lift spells," while 60% had been forced to change their appearance and actions, or had been reprimanded and subjected to psychological pressure. 

LGBTQ Rights In Vietnam: A Work In Progress 

As a reminder, Vietnam has made some progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years. It must be said that the country started from a distance.

In 2012, for example, police interrupted the ceremonial wedding of two men in the Mekong Delta. With equal marriage banned since 2000, the grooms were fined for breaking the law and forced to leave their hometown.

In 2014, fortunately, things began to improve. The country's National Assembly removed same-sex unions from the list of prohibited relationships.

However, while this is a big step forward, the country has yet to allow marriage equality.

But, progress has been made since then. In 2015, Vietnam removed the ban on transgender people legally changing their gender. However, this change was not accompanied by a "transparent and accessible process" for doing so.

In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch pointed to the wide gap between promises made about LGBTQ rights and their implementation, reflecting the deep-rooted social conservatism in Vietnamese society.

After this new victory in August 2022, which saw the Ministry of Health ban "conversion therapy," the battle is now focused on legalizing marriage equality. 

I Agree: The Campaign For Legalizing Marriage Equality In Vietnam 

SCIE Center is working to build support for the legalization of same-sex marriage through its Tôi Đồng Ý (I Agree) campaign.

The I Agree campaign was first launched in 2013 and relaunched on August 10, 2022, to collect 250,000 signatures in support of legalizing marriage equality in Vietnam. But in just three days, the petition surpassed its goal and has since passed the one million signature mark.

This campaign aims to educate the public about the benefits of same-sex marriage and to build support for its legalization as the governing body of the Communist Party of Vietnam is expected to revise the Marriage and Family Law in 2024 or 2025.

If the law is revised to allow same-sex marriage, Vietnam could become the second country in Asia to do so after Taiwan.

I hope this article has helped to shed light on the current state of LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam, as well as the work done by the SCIE Center and its I Agree campaign. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know how important it is to have the same rights and protections as everyone else. That's why I encourage our Vietnamese readers to consider signing the petition for the legalization of marriage equality in their country if you didn't sign it yet. If you can show the governing body of the Vietnamese Communist Party that there is broad support for this change, it will increase the chances that the Marriage and Family Law will be revised to allow same-sex couples to marry. Together you can advance LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam!..
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Friday, 17 May 2024