Homosexuality is legal in Vietnam, but homosexual couples are not as well protected as heterosexual couples. As for rainbow or same-sex families, they are very very rare. We contacted different LGBTQI associations in Vietnam and one of them tried to put us in contact with two rainbow families. The latter preferred to remain hidden and not to expose themselves in the Love makes a family- World Tour project.
We felt, however, that the LGBTQI cause was a hot topic in Vietnam and we still wanted, even if we could not interview gay-friendly families, to meet with LGBTQI association leaders or people directly affected by the subject.
There will be no video interview for Vietnam but we will tell you about our various meetings with Phuong, Anne, Lily, or Edouardo.
We arrived in Hanoi a few weeks after the Gay Pride which brought together several thousand people. The event was even sponsored by the American ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, who is gay, married with a man with whom he has two children. Ted Osius and her husband became the ambassadors of the LGBTQI cause in Vietnam. We tried to meet them but it was the end of the ambassador’s term and he was busy. However, we received a message from her husband, Clayton Bond, telling us that he found our project very inspiring and that he hoped to meet us one day.
Phuong, a young woman committed to equal rights
At the Cong café in Hanoi, we met with Phuong from the Hanoi Queer Association. Hanoi Queer is an association created in June 2015 that aims to make Hanoi a city that is gay friendly, where LGBTQI people are respected and where they have the same rights from an economic and social point of view. This association organizes numerous events to enhance the visibility of the LGBTQI community and to identify and increase the number of places that are LGBTQI friendly. Phuong also explained that they have a hotline to support LGBTQIs in difficulty.
Phuong is a young woman committed to fight for equal rights (including minority rights, gender equality and LGBTQI rights) and determined to make a difference in Vietnam. She got a scholarship to study in Australia for one year, and you may have guessed it, she will take courses in Gender Studies. During the discussion, we discovered, to our great surprise, that marriage for same-sex couples is allowed in Vietnam since a law passed on January 1, 2015. If this new law lifted the ban on marriage between couples of same sex, the official recognition of marriage for all is not yet on the governmental agenda. Same-sex marriage is not forbidden but not recognized either.
It was then in Ho Chi Minh City that we had the chance to meet people who touched us a lot.
Anne, owner of the Pink Tulip Hotel, the only hotel that openly supports the LGBT cause in Vietnam.
A few street from our hotel, we met Anne (male name), who is Dutch, gay and married to a Vietnamese. He received us in his Hotel, the Pink Tulip which is the only hotel that openly supports the LGBTQI cause in Vietnam. Anne told us about his career as a flight attendent, his meeting with Trung with whom he has been married for 9 years, their marriage in the Netherlands … He also explained to us some Vietnamese behaviors we were not understanding but which makes sense given their traditions.
Lily tried everything to bring her son back to his senses
In another part of the city, we had the honor of meeting Lily, her son and a couple of lesbian friends. Lily is the president of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). It was a very moving meeting for us. Lily told us her story, but not speaking English, it was her son Teddy (the main character of the story) who translated it to us, which amplified even more the ambient emotion. It was sometimes difficult to hold back our tears.
After quickly introducing ourselves, our history and our project we asked them a few questions and Lily and her son answered us with a most poignant testimony.
I had dared to ask them how was Teddy’s coming out. I did not know all their history but I knew the end would be positive as they were both present that day and Lily was president of PFLAG in Vietnam.
I did not expect to be so moved.
Everything started when Teddy was in high school. His mom discovered that he had a boyfriend in another city. One day, as Teddy left his phone at home, Lily found his boyfriend’s number and called his family to explain the situation. Parents agreed that their children will broke up and forbid any contct between the boys. Teddy discovered what happened and was very angry at his mother, besides having a broken heart.
Lily then began a very long series of various attempts to bring her son back to heterosexuality. She contacted a large number of psychologists, had him follow a specific diet recommended by the Buddhist and a few years later she even asked her brother to take his son to see prostitutes.
Teddy was living with his mother during all her attempts. Lily wrote him many letters explaining that the she wasn’t expecting him to become rich or have a good job, but she wanted him to have a family.
For 5 years Lily refused to accept the homosexuality of her son. She even got an appointment with the greatest psychologist from all over Vietnam who told her that there was an 80% chance that her son would be Gay. Lily almost collapsed. However the Psychologist told her that she had to wait until he was 21 to be sure because the sexual preferences are definitive after 21 years. Lily had regained hope for 2 years and Teddy had to resume his special Buddhist rice diet.
Teddy ended up giving his mother a letter he had written several years before. In this letter, he apologized for being gay, explained to her that he would have liked to be otherwise and that he would have preferred to die at birth rather than make her suffer today. Teddy also pointed out to her that if he would have been born disabled, she would have loved him as he was. He was gay and according to her it was the biggest sin.
It was at this moment that Lily realized that she had never listened to her son.
Lily then agreed to attend a PFLAG meeting with her son. She went there, like many parents, to ask what was the solution to get their children back on track (being heterosexual). Of course,She did not get an answer to this question, but she was able to listen to the testimony of two Canadian parents who had just married their Gay son.
This couple asked the attendees to think about the following situation:
Imagine having two sons. The first is kind, active and willing to contribute to the well-being of the Vietnamese society. He works hard and is appreciated by the community. This son is Gay.
Your second son is a thief. He has never been appreciated by the community and we can say that he is not a good person. This second son is however attracted by women. The question is why reject the first son only because he is gay?
Lily then attended several meetings organized by PFLAG and she later became an active volunteer. She is now the president, and now she is the one who testifies to parents who come to ask the same question as she did years ago: how to make my child’s homosexuality disappear.
I hope this testimony touched you as much as me and that it did not awaken bad memories for some people.
Our last meeting took place in the pouring rain in a cafe serving only Cheese Tea. If you do not know what it is, you are just like us, you’re not trendy. It is therefore a mixture of cold tea with cheese. After some discussions with the server, we get something that was not on the menu, a simple ice tea. We joined Edouardo and his friend. They are both American and live in Asia for several years. Edouardo writes on LGBT topics on Facebook and Tumblr Hanoi Panic. community. This time it was our turn to be interviewed.
We left Vietnam once again enriched by these meetings, moved by these stories and confident that things are changing in favor of LGBT people in this country.
LGBT activists are very young in Vietnam, so their main concern is to fight for equal rights, marriage for same-sex people and they are still far from thinking of starting a family.
The subject of the same-sex or rainbow family is not yet relevant in this country but I am sure that within ten years, we will talk about it again!