Progress in the fight for equal rights for LGBTQ+ communities has been slow, and often disheartening, in Asian countries. As of now, Taiwan is the only Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, after a historic ruling in 2019. But recent legislation by the Vietnamese government is being considered as a massive step in the right direction.
Earlier this month, the government declared that homosexuality is “not an illness” and “cannot be treated”.
The Ministry of Health issued an official mandate to local and municipal health departments asserting that “medical professionals should treat LGBTQ+ people with respect and ensure they are not discriminated against.” This announcement also criminalised the practice of involuntary treatments like conversion therapy.
“We cannot overstate how big a fix this announcement is,” said Kyle Knight, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch, “While attitudes won’t change overnight, this marks a huge paradigm shift. The myth that homosexuality is diagnosable has been allowed to permeate and percolate Vietnamese society. It is an underpinning factor in medical malpractice against LGBTQ+ youth.”
This has been preceded by years of hard work and vocal advocacy by local human rights groups and NGOs, like the Institute of Society, Economy, and Environment (ISEE).
In 2016, ISEE had petitioned the World Health Organisation in Vietnam to recognise that homosexuality is not a disease. Earlier this year, a representative from WHO (Vietnam) released a statement supporting the LGBTQ+ advocates.
While most Vietnamese cities have gay bars, hold Pride parades, and feature queer characters in mainstream media, the Communist state has been more conservative when it comes to social issues like the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in 2015 but the union is still not recognised legally till now, something that the equal rights advocates are working towards post this optimistic legislation.