Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, Vietnam – Phong Vuong was getting ready for the launch of a marketing campaign advocating for the legalisation of homosexual marriage when he heard that the federal government had determined that homosexuality was “not a illness”.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Well being additionally introduced that it was outlawing conversion remedy.
“This announcement that being LGBT will not be a illness and condemning the observe of conversion remedy, this is sort of a dream,” Vuong, the LGBTI rights program supervisor at The Institute for Research of Society, Financial system, and Setting (iSEE), informed Al Jazeera.
“It’s one thing that we by no means thought would have occurred, not to mention coming from essentially the most trusted supply for medical data in Vietnam … I believe the affect on queer youth can be very, very evident.”
The well being ministry’s August 3 dispatch is being celebrated for its safety of queer Vietnamese in medical settings and as gasoline for an ongoing petition for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Nonetheless, it’s unclear how the choice can be enforced with many LGBTQ folks nonetheless threatened with conversion remedy and sometimes dealing with harsh remedy from household.
The official announcement, despatched to provincial and municipal well being departments nationwide earlier than being launched on the federal government’s on-line data portal on August 8, states that Vietnam’s well being minister had obtained data that some healthcare institutions had been claiming to supply “cures” for homosexuality.
Based mostly on this, and citing the World Well being Organisation’s (WHO) elimination of homosexuality and being transgender from the Worldwide Classification of Ailments, it goes on to stipulate 5 main pointers for the well being system.
Schooling needs to be strengthened so all medical suppliers have right information about “lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender folks,” it says, and that queer folks have to be handled equally in medical environments. As well as, LGBTQ id can’t be handled as a illness, whereas involuntary therapies are prohibited and psychological well being companies can solely be offered by consultants on sexual orientation and gender id. Lastly, supervision and inspection of medical services needs to be elevated.
“That is necessary in the way in which that it affirms that being LGBT will not be one thing you possibly can repair,” Vuong mentioned. “When a queer youngster will get taken to a medical facility … in the event that they find out about this, it may be used to defend themselves.”
The battle for queer rights
Sustained advocacy for LGBTQ rights preceded the Well being Ministry’s announcement.
“It’s not like in the future the Ministry awoke and determined it’s time to do that … It took years of effort,” Linh Ngo, director at ICS Middle, which advocates for LGBTQ rights, informed Al Jazeera.
The battle for the demedicalisation of queerness will be traced to iSEE’s “Go away with Satisfaction” marketing campaign, which was launched in November final yr. The marketing campaign petitioned WHO Vietnam to formally assert that LGBTQ id will not be a illness.
iSEE and collaborators created a stunt video to lift consciousness for the marketing campaign which posed the query: If queerness is a illness, shouldn’t LGBTQ Vietnamese be capable to get sick go away?
Within the video, volunteers requested superiors for day off for his or her “gay illness”. The volunteers had been berated, cursed at, and requested to depart with out their request being granted.
This April, WHO Consultant to Vietnam Kidong Park issued a assertion in assist of ending the medicalisation of queerness.
“We received a press release from WHO and with lots of assist from different civil society companions, we received the Ministry of Well being to additionally reply,” Vuong mentioned of the latest Well being Ministry dispatch.
Together with ICS Middle, iSEE is now pushing the 2022 Tôi Đồng Ý, or I Agree marketing campaign, which is working to safe assist for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Simply three days after its debut on August 10, the marketing campaign had surpassed its aim of 250,000 signatures – greater than one million folks have signed the petition.
“It’s been nice simply taking part and witnessing this,” mentioned Dieu Anh Nguyen, working for ICS in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis. “I believe we’re mainly making historical past.”
The petition will proceed till same-sex marriage is legalised, Ngo mentioned. The nation’s Legislation on Marriage and Household is anticipated to be thought of for revision by the governing physique of the Communist Celebration of Vietnam in 2024 or 2025.
The nation’s first marketing campaign for the acceptance of homosexual marriage goes again practically a decade.
In 2012, the ceremonial wedding ceremony of two males within the Mekong Delta was damaged up by police. Identical-sex marriage had been banned in 2000 and the grooms had been fined for breaking the legislation and compelled to depart their hometown.
The incident, in addition to the punishment of different same-sex nuptials, led to the primary Tôi Đồng Ý marketing campaign in 2013.
The “I Agree” marketing campaign went viral on social media. Quickly, many Fb profile footage in Vietnam featured equal indicators painted onto cheeks and foreheads or Tôi Đồng Ý posters. Within the nation’s capital, Hanoi, occasions had been staged in assist of the marketing campaign within the lead-up to the eighth assembly of the Nationwide Meeting in 2014.
The motion efficiently led to the decriminalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015, however LGBTQ marriages are nonetheless not legally recognised.
“Vietnam could be very open proper now and has lots of potential for LGBTI rights however there’s not but any civil safety,” Ngo mentioned.
The specter of conversion remedy
A, whose id Al Jazeera is defending, is a trans Vietnamese who has been residing in the USA and had been unable to see his mother and father for 2 years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The announcement from the Ministry of Well being is a significant win … however I may also say this isn’t mechanically like all the things is ok,” A informed Al Jazeera.
When he lastly returned residence to Vietnam in July, his household tried to take him for conversion remedy.
A was capable of negotiate his means out of the scenario however mentioned it’s common for queer millennial and Gen Z Vietnamese to face such remedy.
“The spectre of conversion remedy hangs in each queer Vietnamese individual’s family,” A mentioned. “It is among the commonest issues that my mates and I’ve talked about when it comes to why we select to reveal or not disclose.”
Arwen in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis agrees.
The 36-year-old considers himself one of many “fortunate ones”. In contrast to lots of his mates, his household accepts him.
A few of his mates have been taken out of faculty and despatched to work, others got “voodoo therapies,” trapped of their houses, or compelled to have intercourse with somebody of the other gender as a “remedy”, he defined.
A 2015 survey discovered one in 5 queer Vietnamese had been compelled to see a health care provider to have their “illness” handled, 9.7 p.c of the two,363 survey respondents mentioned their households had enlisted a shaman to “take away spells,” whereas 60 p.c had been compelled to vary their look and gestures, or reprimanded and put underneath psychological strain.
Mong Nguyen was a mum or dad who struggled to just accept her homosexual son.
“In 2011, I discovered that my son is homosexual,” she informed Al Jazeera. “I scolded him every single day. I blamed him and needed him to avoid his homosexual mates.”
A yr later, Nguyen discovered her son had made a suicide try.
“I needed to vary to avoid wasting my child,” she mentioned.
Right this moment, Nguyen is an lively member of the Vietnam Affiliation of Dad and mom and Family members of the LGBT Group (PFLAG). On August 17, she stood carrying heart-shaped rainbow earrings and holding a Tôi Đồng Ý fan at a PFLAG occasion in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis.
The sight of seeing so many mother and father present their assist for his or her LGBTQ kids left one 32-year-old entrepreneur in tears as a result of it was thus far faraway from her personal expertise.
“I used to be unintentionally discovered by my mum once I was 14. Since then I’ve felt like it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m not ok,” she mentioned, asking for her identify to not be disclosed.
“The [Ministry of Health] announcement clearly helped to spice up up my very own confidence once I confronted her,” she informed Al Jazeera. “Mum is a pharmacist — a scientific individual … So an official announcement from a legit scientific physique clearly meant one thing to her.”
Enforcement of queer rights
Whereas inspired, queer rights advocates say extra must be performed to make sure the Well being Ministry’s pointers are enforced. And so they be aware the dispatch lacks a authorized foundation.
“Far too usually efficient enforcement fails in Vietnam,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia division, informed Al Jazeera.
“Uprooting anti-LGBT beliefs in conventional Vietnamese society would require concerted effort … It’s not like simply issuing an order and ‘presto’ all the things modifications in a single day.”
A within the US identified that regardless of the latest announcement, healthcare suppliers are nonetheless providing therapies that declare to “right one’s gender”. Significantly, Mai Huong Daycare Psychiatry Hospital in Hanoi and Vinmec Worldwide Hospital, which has seven areas throughout the nation.
Each hospitals provide therapies based mostly on the concept there are “actual gays” and “pretend gays,” the latter of which is taken into account “curable”.
A hyperlinks the recognition of this dangerous notion to a well being column by Dr Tran Bong Son. The column had an “outsized affect” in the course of the Nineties by the early-2000s when sources of data had been restricted and the federal government was placing elevated give attention to the household unit and eradicating “social evils”.
“In actuality, there are numerous people who find themselves actual gays, however there are additionally many who’re pretend gays,” Mai Huong’s web site states.
The hospital claims to have “cured” a 16-year-old feminine who dressed as a boy and was thought of to have a “gender concern”. “After seven months of remedy combining chemotherapy with completely different psychological therapies, the woman has returned to her regular state and now not needs to be a person as earlier than,” it says on its web site.
Over the telephone, a Mai Huong receptionist informed Al Jazeera sufferers must be requested a collection of “psychological questions” to find out if they’re a “actual homosexual” or a “pretend homosexual”.
“If pretend then we can have a remedy for it,” the receptionist mentioned.
The Vinmec web site offers an inventory of “cures” for ”gender id issues” which embrace “psychological remedy” so the affected person “accepts their physique’s gender and now not needs to dwell like an individual of the opposite intercourse”.
At Vinmec in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, a buyer relations workforce officer informed Al Jazeera they don’t provide particular companies for LGBTQ folks.
A receptionist at its Hanoi clinic informed Al Jazeera over the telephone that the Ministry of Well being’s announcement solely utilized to “actual gays”. Remedy would depend upon a case-by-case foundation and so they “can solely remedy the circumstances when sufferers are confused [about] their genders or after a giant shock”.
For Vuong, the medical “therapies” underline the failings within the Well being Ministry’s announcement.
“When there’s something performed [by a medical practitioner] that’s flawed there needs to be a punishment for that,” Vuong mentioned.
“There is no such thing as a measure or mechanism for people who find themselves affected by this [conversion therapy] to hunt retribution.”
Further reporting by Thao Nguyen Hao.