August 8, 2022, was a memorable day for the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam after the Ministry of Health released an official statement announcing “homosexuality is not a disease.” Many were delighted, yet some were disgusted about how backward the reality is for homosexuals in the country. Still, most just felt grateful and hopeful for a future that would embrace them without prejudice.
“I was surprised when the Ministry of Health announced because I rarely hear the national officials talk about the LGBTQ+ community,” said Yen, a 21-year-old lesbian in Hanoi. “However, I was pleased to read the news about it, for I have seen many medical facilities accepting gay, bisexual, and transgender sickness treatment.”
Yen revealed that publicly showing the label “sickness” regarding people’s dissimilarity in sexual preference and gender orientation made her uncomfortable and upset, but “I couldn't do anything myself.” With the Health Ministry’s declaration, she’s hoping they “will remain on the side of people like me.”
To Yen, this means the government officials both support the spirit and protect the LGBTQ+ community in the country. She added that when she saw the “Yeu Moi Khó" (Love is difficult) campaign by the MoH last year, a part of her felt safe. “The campaign has shown concern for the health and safety of the homosexuals by featuring LGBTQ+ relationships in their visuals.”
More than being seen, the Hanoian lesbian now feels a lot safer and accepted.
This declaration from the Vietnamese government didn’t come as a surprise. Other medical experts in different countries, such as India and Lebanon made the same announcement in the past.
“Can’t believe it took them this long”
More than three decades ago, in May 1990, to be specific, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “homosexuality is not a disease, a disturbance or a perversion” and excluded it from the list of mental illnesses. Since 1994, homosexuality was removed from the list of DSM 5 - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Transexual was also taken out from the International Classification of Diseases, chapter V Mental and behavioral disorders in 2019.
It’s been challenging for the LGBTQ+ community, especially in Vietnam. And it’s something that always bothered Jake when he came to the country to work as a teacher five years ago.
Jake, who opted to use a different name, is a closeted gay and living with his Vietnamese partner, who hasn’t come out to his family as well. “My friends know that I am gay,” he said. “I don’t try to hide it, but I have not officially outed myself to my family and the community because I came from a religious clan. To me, I just live my life and be happy.”
However, when Jake came to Vietnam, he met Anh. “Anh is my first real boyfriend,” Jake revealed. “We’ve been together for four years, and we’ve been living in one apartment since lockdown. We’re happy, but the problem is we can’t go out and show the streets of Saigon how much I love him because of his strict parents.”
When Jake heard about the announcement from the MoH, he felt relieved but immediately felt disgusted after realizing that all these years, people in Vietnam think that “we’re just medically ill” and “gays were living in fear before or don’t feel safe, especially when needing medical attention.”
In recent years, the LGBTQ+ movement in Vietnam has seen much outstanding progress as Vietnamese are more open about the community. Gay clubs and drag shows are more apparent in big cities, organizations are providing safe spaces, and various Vietnamese celebrities such as Lynk Lee or Vu Cat Trong Tuong come out to the public. In 2012, Viet Pride - the first pride festival in Vietnam - was held in Hanoi.
Despite all that efforts, there are still a lot of prejudices and discrimination against LGBTQ+ in the country, towards Vietnamese nationals as well as foreigners.
Jake explained that he’s glad about it and respects the government, but, “I can’t believe it took them this long to officially publicize that my partner and I aren’t sick for feeling this way.”
As for Vi Phi, a 23-year-old bisexual, “this can be considered a milestone for the LGBT community in Vietnam because all of our efforts have paid off.”
Seeing how the stigma and discrimination changed for good over the years, Phi still encounters people who still hold prejudice towards gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. “This could also serve as an educational message to homophobic,” Phi said. “The fact that the Ministry of Health made this announcement, I think, is like a way of affirming once again and emphasizing that LGBTQ+ are normal people.”
Phi hopes more people will be able to know more about this news “especially the previous generations (such as my mom), so that LGBTQ+ won't get stuck with negative stereotypes. Finally, a reputable national department has now recognized homosexuals!”
Guaranteed and entitled to equal rights
In the official letter released by the Ministry of Health, it requested the heads of units to direct examination facilities, diseases and treatment under its management shall thoroughly observe medical examination and treatment establishments nationwide to intensify propaganda and dissemination so that doctors, health workers, and people visiting medical examination and treatment establishments can properly understand homosexual, bisexual and transgender people.
It also said that when organizing medical examination and treatment for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people, they must be equal, respected for their gender, and non-discriminatory.
The main thought was: the Health Ministry no longer considers homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality a disease. Medical practitioners are also expected not to intervene or force treatment. Additionally, only staff with knowledge of gender identity can provide psychological support when necessary.
Ultimately, the medical practitioners in the country need to intensify the inspection of medical examination and treatment establishments, ensuring everyone complies with the principles of medical examination and treatment practice under the provisions of law.
To Tra Dao, also based in Hanoi and a lesbian in her 20s, this declaration is “an important and necessary announcement at present.”
She perceives this not only affects the LGBTQ+ community in the country but also affects the issues of maintaining fairness and equality in society.
Dao expressed her thanks to the ministry, which made her feel at ease. “It's good to know that we now have access to safer and more equal public health services.”
She believes that every individual has the right to live in a safe society in which each of us is fully developed in all aspects, and the right to comprehensive health care is one of them.
Moving forward, thanks to the bold move from the Health Ministry, Yen, Jake and his partner, Phi, and Dao are now entitled to and guaranteed equal rights when seeking medical help.
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