by Nguyen Thu Hien
HA NOI — Hundreds of young people wearing rainbow flags, the symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, gathered at My Dinh National Stadium on Sunday for a bike parade to mark "Viet Pride", an annual international rights movement held here for the first time.
|People from all walks of life join in "Cycle with Viet Pride" to express their support for homosexual people. Research in Viet Nam shows that only a small percentage of gays and lesbians are prepared to declare their sexual orientation. — Photo courtesy of CSAGA
Unlike similar overseas events, the parade did not attract thousands of people and the streets weren't lined with rainbow flags by the authorities as they are at Pride festivals in Sweden, England, Holland or the United States.
But the participants still believe in a better future for the 1.65 million homosexual people in the country. The parade was part of a three-day series of events on the issue of homosexual people's rights.
Nguyen Le Mai, a 23-year-old student from Ha Noi Tourism College said she and her friends were not homosexual, but they participated to try and change the prejudice against them.
"Their sexual orientation is natural and cannot be changed,' she said. "There is no reason for them to keep suffering social stigma."
Pham Manh Hung, a 20-year-old student at Ha Noi Industry University, said he wished to stand beside them and help them gain respect. "They are different, not abnormal. Belonging to a minority group in terms of sexuality does not mean they have no right to love and marriage." Nguyen Thanh Tam, programme co-ordinator for Viet Pride, said her participation in Stockholm Pride last August inspired her to initiate a similar event in Viet Nam.
She recalled that the whole city supported the six-day festival. Rainbow flags and slogans were hung in public places and on public transport. Thousands of people joined in, even when it rained heavily.
"This scene has built my confidence in a society in which homosexual people are respected and have full rights," she said. Nguyen Van Anh, director of Ha Noi's Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents said the future of the country was in the hands of young people. She added that when they had an understanding of homosexual issues, they would help change society.
Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment said compared to countries of the same socio-economic conditions, Viet Nam was leading in changing society's attitude toward homosexuals. This can also be seen in the more open coverage of the issue by the media.
Tam said her mother has yet to totally accept her sexual orientation, but now understood more about her. However, it has not been easy, the 25-year-old said looking into the distance with tears running down her cheeks.
"After trying in vain for several years to persuade me to behave and dress like a girl, my parents kept protesting at my sexual orientation. They did not understand anything about it at the time. However, it was painful for them to see their girl acting different to others and hear neighbours gossip.
"At that point, I thought it was better to end my life than keep living. Every day was painful. But I thought I should give myself a chance."
Research on gays shows and lesbians shows that only a small percentage are prepared to declare their sexual orientation.
The main reasons for keeping it secret are social stigma (41 per cent) and family objections (39 per cent).
The worries of homosexual people are understandable. Research in four big cities and provinces showed that 48 per cent of people referred to homosexuality as "a curable disease", 57 per cent said it was a new social trend – and 77 per cent said they would be disappointed if their children were homosexual.
Binh said many parents had no understanding of homosexuality and even hit their children or took them to hospital for treatment. These types of attitude drove many homosexuals to despair, creating depression and leading many to think about suicide.
Many had to get married to a person who was "straight" to cover their real sexual orientation. This has led to many breakups, he said.
Tam said to change the situation it was necessary to keep improving public understanding of gender identity. She added that people should imagine being forbidden to marry or express their love with their own wives and husbands. The pain would be similar to deprived homosexuals.
Binh said same-sex marriage should be legalised to protect the rights of homosexuals – and that educational and media programmes were necessary to improve people's knowledge.
Tam said: "Changing peoples' attitudes can take 10 to 15 years, even with a lot of effort, but it's worth it, as the people of Stockholm already know" . — VNS