Despite recent government promises to protect LGBT+ people, children in Vietnam are still taught at home and at school that being gay is a “disease”, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Same-sex marriages are not recognised in Vietnam, but gay sex is legal and it is believed to have never been criminalised in the country’s history. There is an equal age of consent, and LGBT+ people are able to serve in the military.
In 2015, the country made headlines for voting to allow trans people who had been through gender affirmation surgery to register as their correct gender.
In 2016, while serving on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Vietnam voted in favour of appointing a watchdog to protect LGBT+ rights.
While recent legal changes in Vietnam make the futures of queer people seem promising, socially LGBT+ people commonly face extreme stigma and discrimination.
In its report on education for LGBT+ youth in Vietnam, HRW interviewed queer youth who were searching for information against a “steady tide of stereotypes, misinformation, and anti-LGBT rhetoric”.
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They described how being LGBT+ was frequently described as a “disease”, both by their families and at school.
Nhung, a 17-year-old bisexual girl, said: “I don’t feel safe at school, because the view and mindset of other people on LGBT+.
“I didn’t get hurt physically, but I did suffer mentally. You have to be hurt when people tell you have a disease that frequently.”
Other young people told HRW that the most frequent comments they heard from teachers on LGBT+ issues was that being gay is a “mental illness”.
Quân, an 18-year-old gay man, said he was taught in his high school biology class that “LGBT+ people need to go to the doctor and get female hormone injection” to cure their “disease”.
In 2019, Vietnam’s education ministry announced plans for an inclusive sex education curriculum, but it is yet to be implemented.
Graeme Reid of HRW told The Guardian: “Largely thanks to a vibrant civil society-led LGBT rights movement, social awareness and acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity has increased greatly in recent years in Vietnam. The government’s actions, however, have so far not officially reflected these changes.
“One result of the sluggish policy change is that social perceptions in many cases remain mired in outdated and incorrect frameworks – such as the widespread belief that same-sex attraction is a diagnosable mental health condition.”