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.
This major breakthrough for the LGBTQ community would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of activists and allies.
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.
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:
"Do not consider homosexuality, bisexuality, or being transgender a disease," the document reads.by Author
"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."by Author
"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.
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."
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.
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.