|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
A website for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in Vietnam was launched this month in Ho Chi Minh City with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Accessible via Pflag.vn or its Vietnamese name Hieuvecon.vn to mean understanding/knowing children”, the PFLAG Vietnam website is set up by the “Information Connecting and Sharing” (ICS) project team that comprises leaders of Vietnam’s four largest LGBT webforums. The project team operates under the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) an independent and not-for-profit research organisation.
According to a PFLAG Vietnam spokesperson Fridae spoke to, the website now has over 200 registered members but is unable to determine how many are parents or siblings of LGBTs. ICS describes the PFLAG Vietnam website as the “first concerted effort ever in the country to create a supportive environment for parents and friends of LGBTs, as well as drawing the media and society’s attention to the reality of how kinship and friendship matters to happiness, potential, and positivity of LGBT people’ lives.”
According to a survey conducted by iSee and while homosexuality is not illegal in Vietnam, many parents still think homosexuality is a "disease, a fashion or an abnormality"; and Vietnamese LGBTs run into considerable difficulties being who they are with families. Some lesbians were threatened by their families to change their orientation or face being pulled out of school while others were forced into (opposite-sex) marriages.
The Ambassador of Sweden to Vietnam, Staffan Herrstrom, who was present at the launch on May 11, spoke about the importance of strengthening the rights of LGBT persons and the importance of defending LGBT rights saying: “The Government of Vietnam wants a modern equal society which can only be achieved if all persons, regardless of gender, age, disability, ethnicity or sexual orientation are able to fully enjoy their civil rights on equal terms. The commitment is there already through Vietnam signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Where article 25 clearly states that all persons are equal without any discrimination. Since Vietnam has ratified this Covenant this right obviously is applicable to all of you.
“But the ambition should be broader and higher: A society where LGBT-people never should feel oppressed or socially excluded. A society where diversity is seen as normal. A society where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, could enjoy the rights to happiness in terms of family, relations and love.”
The ICS project is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) which in particular supports ICS in in establishing and running counselling and sexual health services, networking and alliance building activities.
Herrstrom was joined by four other ambassadors for PFLAG Vietnam; Thuy Dung, Miss Vietnam 2008; (Nguyen) Tuan Khanh, a musician; (Pham Gia) Chi Bao, a well-known actor; and Tran Thi Bich Ngoc aka Ploy, a young popular writer, who announced their commitment to voice their support for LGBTs and help promote PFLAG Vietnam’s future activities.
Nguyen Thi Thanh, a 63-year-old PFLAG.vn member and mother of a gay child was quoted as saying: “We parents should be a little bit more tolerant and open-minded. When we cannot change it, we should accept it. Acceptance will help us see other things to sympathise with, things that encourage empathy between parents and their children, and then parents would be able to provide the children with advice on how to lead a better and more useful life of their own.”
At the launch, President of iSEE Le Quang Binh also shared the results of a study conducted in the beginning of 2011 among 1,000 people living in four cities and provinces of Vietnam, describing how people in general and parents of LGBTs in particular think about homosexuality and gay people.
The following is an excerpt of the The Start of PFLAG Vietnam report:
From stigma within families
Vietnamese LGBTs run into considerable difficulties being who they are with families, when according to a recent study by iSEE, many parents still think homosexuality is a disease, a fashion or an abnormality. 63.1% of the respondents totally agreed that they would be very disappointed if their child was gay, while 43.7% affirmed that they would make their children stay away from friends who are LGBTs. In general, family members do not understand homosexuality and why people are gay, or are afraid of social stigma and pressure. Few of them tolerate homosexuality but they never disclose to others for fear of discrimination and losing face.
A study by iSEE on lesbians in Hanoi reveals that stigma against lesbians is very common, especially the ones who have come out with their families. Family members do not accept their true sexual orientation, which has provoked disapproving reactions such as grievance, forbidding their child to continue relationship with girlfriend or lesbian community, threatening to stop supporting school fees and allowance, and forcing the woman to get married to a man. In some extreme cases, suicide and attempt to commit suicide have happened.
Gay men also experienced stigma mostly from their families and friends. Among 1,800 respondents in a study carried out by iSEE in 2008, 20% of them said they had lost friends due to their homosexuality, 15% said they had been scolded by family members for being gay, and 4.1% kicked out of their house due to their sexual orientation.
PFLAG Vietnam http://www.pflag.vn is seeking volunteer to run its offline activities, and the PFLAG Vietnam website and webforum.