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The Country Setting an Example for LGBT Rights in Southeast Asia

In the 21st century, Southeast Asia exploded onto the world stage. Countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore have burgeoning economies, are recipients of a multitude of foreign investment, and are becoming international cultural hubs. Despite the impressive growth the region has had all round, it still falls behind in human rights, namely the rights of LGBT individuals. No country in Southeast Asia legally recognizes same-sex marriages, allows same-sex couples to adopt, and all countries, excluding Thailand, have no laws outlawing sexual orientation based discrimination. A few countries even consider queer persons criminals, punishing them with jail time and in some cases corporal punishment. Even though Southeast Asia struggles with LGBT rights holistically, there is one country that is setting a tremendous example for the entire region: Vietnam.

Since its inception in 928 CE, Vietnam has seen rule from Chinese imperialist powers, been religiously influenced by Catholic missionaries, and has both been colonized and gained independence from French colonial powers. In the 20th century, Vietnam, backed by the USSR, instituted a socialist economy, to much global controversy. All have shaped the country, culturally, politically, and socially, into what it is today.

In more recent years, free markets have crept in and the nation has seen a thriving consumerist economy. Economic advancements have led to a rise in the standard of living, especially in urban areas. Because of this, Vietnam has seen its population migrate from traditional rural communities to large urban centers en mass. These urban centers feature more career opportunities, culture, interconnectedness, leisurely activities, and advanced technology. Major Vietnamese cities such as Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi are even beginning to resemble world metropolises such as Hong Kong and New York.

The transition from rural to urban culture almost always results in a higher prevalence of liberal values. Advancing progressive urban ideologies in the nation, especially from the more tolerant younger generations, has supported the passing of legislation that further advances the rights of the Vietnamese LGBT community. In 2013, the Vietnamese government officially abolished the ban on same-sex marriage. While same-sex marriages still aren’t legally recognized by the government, the ban lift is still a milestone in the battle for equality. Additional legal rights granted to individual citizens regardless of sexual orientation include the ability to adopt, donate blood, and serve in the military.

Besides the legal progress, Vietnam has also seen progress from a grassroots level, a prime example being the annual VietPride event. First organized in 2012 in the city of Hanoi, VietPride has since become a nationwide series of organized events supporting the LGBT community and advocating for their rights. One aspect of VietPride is a pride parade. Members of the Vietnamese LGBT community, non-LGBT Vietnamese, and even foreigners all come together to show their love, tolerance, and support for the LGBT community. Participants can openly display affection and show off their pride flags and banners, which are typically dangerous acts in the region. 

Even though Vietnam has made significant progress, it still has a ways to go. There is still an abundance of legal framework that discriminates based on sexual orientation. For example, same-sex couples are not able to adopt and there are also regulations that prevent an individual from legally changing their gender. Furthermore, there are still no laws protecting people from any sexual orientation based discrimination. LGBT persons can be discriminated against in the workplace, by businesses, and in plenty of other scenarios. Socially, non-heteronormative sexual orientation still remains a taboo subject. 

Although there is significant ground to still be covered, many remain optimistic for the future, and they should. Vietnam’s stance on LGBT rights has progressed leaps and bounds since the new millennia, and the momentum doesn’t seem to be waning. New generations are taking hold of the country and societal attitudes are shifting. Vietnam has been setting a great example that other countries in the region will hopefully be following as they develop further.


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