Vietnam: Same-sex relations, equality laws and their social perceptions in Vietnam are almost always associated with gay men with lesbians largely being misunderstood, ignored or discriminated against, says a social anthropologist.
Vietnam has made great strides towards equality laws but these have little or no impact on the country’s lesbian population, says Vietnamese-American LGBT activist and researcher Dr. Natalie Newton who conducted an ethnographic research on the social politics of Ho Chi Minh City’s lesbian community.
Her dissertation, ‘A Queer Political Economy of Community,’ was aided by the Fulbright-Hays award, which is a partnership between the Vietnamese government and the U.S. Department of Education.
The way funding from intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations toward LGBT rights are manifested for example, is inevitably linked towards the male gay community, she says.
These organizations have supported Vietnam’s gay community and men who have sex with men for decades since the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit Vietnam in the late 1980s. However, only a few studies have focused on Vietnamese female gay population, Newton maintains.
She pointed out that Vietnam’s premier NGO and think-tank Institute for Studies of Society, Economy, and Environment released a study on 40 lesbians in 2011 but unlike studies on gay men, these few studies on women have led to little or no lesbian-specific programming in Vietnam.
Newton says there is also a significant theoretical gap between the longer-standing Vietnamese feminist movement and truly feminist studies on lesbians who have encountered abuse including ‘corrective rape’ or women who identify as sexually fluid.
Corrective rape –where parents encourage the rape of their children in the hope of reversing their child’s sexual orientation — is a complex feminist issue that bridges Vietnamese women’s advocacy with lesbian rights in particular.
However, there has yet to be significant visibility around these issues, Newton said because Vietnamese lesbian communities are hard to reach due to factors including lack of real partnership between them and NGOs who seek to conduct more studies or programming.
Newton maintains that while legalizing same-sex marriage may be progressive, it will not necessarily improve how lesbians are viewed, nor will it diminish the daily struggle for many lesbians whose lives are much more than just marriage because discrimination is much broader than the institution of marriage.
It is only when people in Vietnam understand and accept lesbian women and the struggles they face, the women will feel more accepted by society. Vietnam must address the attitudes and beliefs of the general public towards lesbians, she added.
Lawmakers have already scrapped fines against same-sex marriage under a decree taking effect past November even though they stated that Vietnam “does not recognize marriages between people of the same sex.”
Until 2000 it was illegal for gay couples to even live together.