Vietnam Declares Homosexuality 'Not an Illness'

Vietnam Declares Homosexuality 'Not an Illness'

The Vietnamese government earlier this month declared that "homosexuality is not an illness" and "cannot be treated," marking a major shift in rhetoric towards the country's LGBTQ+ community.

As reported byThe Guardian, Vietnam's Ministry of Health issued an official mandate to local and municipal health departments on August 3rd, asserting that "medical professionals should treat LGBTQ+ people with respect and ensure they are not discriminated against." Notably, the announcement also outlawed the practice involuntary treatments, such as conversion therapy.

Vietnam's cities have gay bars and Pride parades, and queer characters can even be found in mainstream Vietnamese media, but the Communist state has historically been more conservative towards social issues. A ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in 2015, but same-sex unions are still not legally recognized.

The latest government decree comes after years of more vocal advocacy from local human rights groups. In 2016, the Institute for Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE), a Hanoi-based non-governmental organization, petitioned the World Health Organization in Vietnam to recognize that homosexuality isn't a disease. In April, the WHO's representative in Vietnam, Kidong Park, issued a statement supporting the petition.

“We cannot overstate how big a fix this announcement is,” said Kyle Knight, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch. “While attitudes won’t change overnight, this marks a huge paradigm shift. The myth that homosexuality is diagnosable has been allowed to permeate and percolate Vietnamese society. It is an underpinning factor in medical malpractice against LGBTQ+ youth.”

Now, the ISEE and other advocates are calling for Vietnam to legalize same-sex marriage. Presently, Taiwan is the only Asian nation to legally recognize same-sex marriage, which it did in 2019.

Photos via Getty Images / AFP / Nhac Nguyen