A website for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) was introduced to around 30 Vietnamese journalists and representatives of parents and friends of LGBT people during a launching event on 11 May in Ho Chi Minh City, which marked the inception of PFLAG Vietnam community.
Organized by Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS) team, a project under the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), this event was aimed at promoting PFLAG Vietnam website as the first concerted effort ever in the country to create a supportive environment for parents and friends of LGBTs, as well as drawing the media and society's attention to the reality of how kinship and friendship matters to happiness, potential, and positivity of LGBT people' lives. The website - developed by ICS – is located at www.pflag.vn and can be alternatively accessed through this locally-adapted Vietnamese domain name www.hieuvecon.vn, which literally means "understanding/knowing children."
PFLAG Vietnam launching day started with a speech made by Mr Staffan Herrström – Ambassador of Sweden to Vietnam – about the importance of defending LGBT rights and working towards "a society where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, could enjoy the rights to happiness in terms of family, relations and love." Mr Le Quang Binh – President of iSEE – also shared about the results of a study conducted in the beginning of 2011 among 1,000 people living in four cities and provinces of Vietnam, describing how people in general and parents of LGBTs in particular think about homosexuality and gay people.
Following a presentation by Mr Huynh Minh Thao – Communication Manager of ICS – to give an overview of PFLAG's mission and vision, five ambassadors for PFLAG Vietnam, including Sweden Ambassador to Vietnam, Miss Vietnam 2008, a famous musician, a famous actor, and a young popular writer, announced their commitment to help promote PFLAG Vietnam's future activities and voice their opinions towards LGBT anti-discrimination and support services. As part of the launch of PFLAG website on 11 May, Vietnam's It Gets Better (IGB) videos project and its YouTube channel was initiated alongside in the hope of spreading positive messages about LGBTs throughout Vietnamese LGBT community and the society at large. ICS showed the participants a nearly 10-minute long promotional video as a combination of internationally renowned clips from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Suze Orman; welcoming message from IGB founder Dan Savage and most importantly, supporting voices from Vietnamese celebrities, parents and friends of LGBT people. At the end of the launching day, both PFLAG website and IGB project received quite a lot of questions from journalists of Vietnam's most popular newspapers and magazines, gearing PFLAG Vietnam up for promising next steps and plans.
From Stigma Within Families
Vietnamese LGBTs run into considerable difficulties being who they are with families, when according to a recent study by iSEE, many parents still think homosexuality is a disease, a fashion or an abnormality. 63.1% of the respondents totally agreed that they would be very disappointed if their child was gay, while 43.7% affirmed that they would make their children stay away from friends who are LGBTs. In general, family members do not understand homosexuality and why people are gay, or are afraid of social stigma and pressure. Few of them tolerate homosexuality but they never disclose to others for fear of discrimination and losing face.
A study by iSEE on lesbians in Hanoi reveals that stigma against lesbians is very common, especially the ones who have come out with their families. Family members do not accept their true sexual orientation, which has provoked disapproving reactions such as grievance, forbidding their child to continue relationship with girlfriend or lesbian community, threatening to stop supporting school fee and allowance, and forcing the woman to get married to a man. In some extreme cases, suicide and attempt to commit suicide have happenned.
Gay men also experienced stigma mostly from their families and friends. Among 1,800 respondents in a study carried out by iSEE in 2008, 20% of them said they had lost friends due to their homosexuality, 15% said they had been scolded by family members for being gay, and 4.1% kicked out of their house due to their sexual orientation.
What PFLAG and IGB Vietnam Mean for Our Society
All the above findings and other latent stigma factors pose a challenge of increasing LGBT awareness and providing supporting space and services for such a lasting and influential environment: the family and loved ones.
"There is so much prejudice and stigma around LGBT and so much to gain just from raising awareness and speak out in public. The vision really is very simple: All people should enjoy the right to see their individuality, their love and their relations accepted and respected."
Mr. Staffan Herrström – Ambassador of Sweden to Vietnam
As parents and friends of LGBT have not had their own community and social network, thus being faced with social stigma and self-stigma themselves. They do not have credible sources of information about homosexuality and do not know where to turn to for help. PFLAG Vietnam, therefore, aims to:
- provide parents and friends of LGBTs a source of credibile information and knowledge about homosexuality;
- create opportunities for them to network, share and seek mutual support;
- develop ideas and initiatives to support their sons and daughters and address social stigma against LGBTs.
There is, in addition, IGB Vietnam project serving as an opportunity for ordinary people to "SPEAK UP" in support of LGBTs. It is important because if supporters speak up, especially when they are social icons, celebrities, political leaders, it will contribute largely to spreading supportive messages and building up confidence for LGBTs.
Taking steps towards tolerance and justice would not be this encouraging without parents and friends of Vietnamese LGBTs who have recently made their trailblazing voices heard:
"We parents should be a little bit more tolerant and open-minded. When we cannot change it, we should accept it. Acceptance will help us see other things to sympathize with, things that encourage empathy between parents and their children, and then parents would be able to provide the children with advices on how to lead a better and more useful life of their own."
Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh (63 years old) - A PFLAG.vn member
"I think every persons live for this ultimate aim only: Leading a peaceful and happy life. As long as people live towards that aim, there are no reasons for everybody else to object to or discriminate against them. I personally hope that this meaningful project of yours will be successful and attract a wide range of support."
Mr Chi Bao – Vice President of "Hieu ve trai tim" charity organization
"No matter who you are, being LGBT or heterosexual ones, the effectiveness of your work is the most important thing. I wiil support LGBT people at my best and I will also help other people to develop positive and sensible views on LGBT people, as I am glad to have them around me as special and talented friends, which just makes my life more rich and varied. By making friends with them, knowing and seeing their lives just like those of other people, the prejudices of ours will vanish, and in those situations time is of the essence."
Ms. Vanessa Ai Tran (25 years old) - Yeah1TV
"They shoud be treated equally as normal people and we should start to change the society perception, first of all, through reaching persons like parents, friends, neighbours of LGBTs. You can also become allies of LGBT people by taking part in social movements that help connect different community groups as well as fighting for their safety and well-being."
Ms. Nguyen Thanh Tam – A law graduate
"I think mothers and fathers who have LGBT children should never force or isolate or scold their children in any way. Never do those things. You need to love them more. You need to help them with what they need and love to do. Just help them to develop their career and learn what they love to learn, without imposing we parents'views and expectations on them. Never ever impose your will on the others like that."
Ms Quy – mother of a TaoXanh.net member
- June 2011: Organize an offline event for PFLAG Vietnam community members to gather and listen to each other's opinions and ideas.
- Organize activities regarding volunteers recruitment and capacity buidling, which would enhance the management of PFLAG Vietnam website and webforum.
- Develop the network of ambassadors for PFLAG Vietnam and involve them in making IGB Vietnam videos.
"Information Connecting and Sharing" (ICS) was founded by iSEE in November 2008, becoming the first LGBT community organizing project which brings together leaders of Vietnam's 4 largest LGBT webforums. From 2008 to 2010, ICS team aimed to combat negative representation of LGBTs in newspapers through empowering Vietnamese LGBT youth and collaborating with mass media institutions. From the beginning of 2011 onwards, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) signed the project grant which would support ICS in their establishment as an independent and sustainable LGBT rights organization. Besides working with the press, ICS has been organizing public events, public education trainings, networking and alliance building activities with the support of iSEE and the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU).
Published on May 17, 2011 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization