The crowded streets of Hanoi have seen sparkles and rainbows lately as Hanoi Pride 2018, one of the biggest Pride events in Vietnam, took place. Consisting of many exciting activities, such as music shows, plays, art exhibitions, this annual event, which started in September, is the one true sanctuary for members of the LGBTQ+ community in the country.
On Sunday, the 11th of November, all the excitement of the preceding month cumulated into a flamboyant Pride parade around Hoan Kiem Lake, the city’s cultural centre, led by drag queens and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Since the passing of the legislation which lifts the ban on homosexual marriage, Vietnam has seen massive strides in recognizing LGBTQ+ rights, evident in recent Pride parades. However, whispers of discontent began to arise, and there have been many voices asking whether Pride parades are even necessary anymore… Unfortunately, the answer is still yes, and here is why.
It’s still a taboo
Many people still consider it a taboo to openly talk about LGBTQ+ rights at dinners. There are relatively few openly gay couples in the country, and most people would go on with their life without paying attention to the issue at all, oblivious to the injustices and discriminations that LGBTQ+ people face in their daily life.
A gay person with an undisclosed name was reported to have asked his mother what she thought of LGBTQ+ people and although at first, she admitted having no qualm with them, she then went on about how homosexuality is wrong and young homosexuals should be taught to stay away from it.
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Media representation is still limited and some comedy shows, including the famous end-of-year theatrical play Táo Quân, portray LGBTQ+ people in exaggerated and slanderous manners, earning criticisms from many respected organizations. For these reasons, it’s safe to say that most Vietnamese people are uncomfortable still talking openly about LGBTQ+ people. This suggests that while they are now tolerated, they might still not be accepted in society.
The social awareness that Pride parades bring will be invaluable to lift this veil of taboo and help LGBTQ+ people feel comfortable in coming out and living happily as they are.
LGBTQ+ people are still being abused in the countryside
Although LGBTQ+ activists have gained momentous victories in urban areas of Vietnam, the movement’s progress in rural areas is much less impressive.
Characterized by heavily conservative and collective mindsets, the rural areas of Vietnam have generally been hostile to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, most prominently to transgender people. Transgender people in Vietnam are most notable for their occupation as singers at funerals because locals believe their voice can reach the dead. This occupation does not earn them much respect, but rather disdain, distrust, and general discrimination from other villagers.
Furthermore, there has not yet been any legislation in Vietnam that allows transgender people to change their gender, so they have to be legally named as their sex, which might cause confusion to local administrators when it comes to conscription, pensions, etc.
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The hardships of transgender people, in particular, in rural Vietnam is poignantly depicted in Madame Phung’s Last Journey, a documentary which follows the life of transgender trope singer Phung and garnered international attention when released.
A lack of media coverage and overall understanding means that these discriminations continue to be made and just highlights an even bigger need for Pride parades in Vietnam. Not only will the sight of a celebration of LGBTQ+ people help normalise the community, but it will also humanise them and show the State the urgent need to push bills that protect their rights.
Vietnam has seen massive successes in LGBTQ+ rights and currently ranks only behind Taiwan in Asia in this aspect. Even though there is still much to be done, many in the LGBTQ+ community express optimistic hope for a better future, and they believe the outlook for a more inclusive society is just on the horizon.