The use of the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnamese pop culture was always been obscured, but recently it seems like change could be on the horizon. Potentially.
Last year saw a huge surge in the number of shows that feature LGBTQ+ representation, be it characters or individuals on talk and reality shows. In fact, The Bachelor: Vietnam made headlines worldwide when one of the girls featured confessed her love for another female contestant.
Many see such events being included as a great stride towards LGBTQ+ acceptance and tolerance in the country. It can help individuals see themselves on screen and also encourage those who relate to maybe feel safe in coming out without fear of isolation and estrangement.
However, there are still concerns and disagreement from influential figures from the country’s top LGBTQ+ rights organizations, citing that these depictions are nothing but marketing ploys and they do not really help LGBTQ+ to gain more rights or public understanding.
On one hand, it is difficult not to praise the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in mainstream Vietnam media. What was once considered a taboo or mere laughing stocks is now being depicted on mainstream media as normal, and it is even more interesting to note that the backlash against these shows is minimal.
Also, these shows also incorporate genders other than heterosexuals and homosexuals. Thanks to these shows, transgender and non-binary people, who have been an unacknowledged part of the country’s history, can finally start to voice their opinions and stories without fear of being discriminated. This definitely marks some progress, be it grand or small, in the country’s LGBTQ+ rights.
As a matter of fact, many shows aimed specifically towards the LGBTQ+ community have received widespread acclaims from LGBTQ+ individuals themselves. Shows like Come Out and Just Love creates open and safe environments for LGBTQ+ members to share their stories and hardships.
Come Out creates a chance for LGBTQ+ people to retell the journey towards acceptance from their family, while Just Love allows them to freely share the discrimination and isolation they face from their peers and family. These shows go to show that LGBTQ+ appearance on mass media can, at least in some part, help to normalize the LGBTQ+ community.
Commenting on this phenomenon, Hoàng Hường, Vice Director of iSEE, one of the country’s main advocators for LGBTQ+ rights, remarks that these shows are proof that Vietnam’s society has become more and more open to the LGBTQ+ community.
However, well-intentioned as it may be, this phenomenon has encountered doubts from advocators. Hường, besides her aforementioned compliment, has criticized the depiction of LGBTQ+ individuals in these shows, saying they are skewed, comical, and even downright discriminating sometimes. She also confidently affirms that these shows, if they do include queer elements just to attract viewers, will not last long on the market.
The annual New Year’s Táo Quân show has been repeatedly criticised for its farcical depiction of LGBTQ+ people. One cannot help to ponder whether these shows actually mean to help the community or are simply attempting to catch up on millennial trends.
Nevertheless, with shows like Come Out and Just Love, it is safe to say that there are those who are sincerely committed to LGBTQ+ rights, and thanks to them, Vietnam has made a small but sure step towards true equality for its LGBTQ+ community – a group that is feeling more confident in being themselves as the days go on.