Vietnam LGBT youth taught they have ‘a disease’
Vietnam LGBT youth are facing pervasive myths about sexual orientation and gender identity that contribute to stigma and discrimination, warned the rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In their report, the HRW documented how LGBT youth in Vietnam face issues at home and school leading to harassment and bullying, and even to physical violence.
Moreover, their teachers are untrained and ill-equipped to handle these cases of anti-LGBT discrimination. Worse, sometimes their lessons push the widespread myth that same-sex attraction is “a disease.”
Vietnam LGBT youth deal with “disease” stigma
One of the pervasive myths being spread about same-sex attraction in Vietnam is that this is a “disease.”
“The government of Vietnam has indicated support for the rights of LGBT people in recent years, but tangible policy change has lagged,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at HRW.
“LGBT youth are especially vulnerable due to inadequate legal protection and widespread misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity,” Reid said.
Reid said that because of the sluggish policy change, social perceptions remain mired in outdated and incorrect frameworks, i.e. widespread belief that same-sex attraction is “a diagnosable mental health condition.”
The HRW’s report is based on in-depth interviews with 52 LGBT youth in Vietnam as well as teachers and school staff.
The report also looked at existing Vietnamese government policy and planning documents, as well as the pledges the government has made to help the LGBT community.
Vietnam LGBT youth face harassment in school
In the HRW report, a gay 18-year old said his high school biology teacher said “being LGBT is a disease.”
Another 18-year old said: “During a class to educate us about family and marriage, the teacher said: ‘Homosexuality is an illness and it’s very bad.’”
A school counsellor told HRW that, “There’s a lot of pressure on kids to be straight. It’s constantly referenced that being attracted to someone of the same sex is something that can, and should be, changed and fixed.”
HRW also found that the verbal harassment of LGBT students in various types of schools (rural, urban, public, private) by fellow students and teachers also sometimes led to threats of violence.
Because of the inconsistent response of school staff to these incidents, majority of LGBT youth interviewed said they didn’t feel comfortable reporting them as some experienced overt, prejudiced behavior by the staff.
Current situation of Vietnam LGBT community
Vietnam presently has several laws that prohibit discrimination and uphold the right to education for all children. In 2015, they also allowed individuals that had gender reassignment surgery to register under their new gender.
Likewise, in 2016, they voted in favor of a resolution on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity while serving on the UN Human Rights Council.
However, HRW said their national curriculum and sex education policy falls short of international standards and don’t include discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
This means inaccurate information about the LGBT community in Vietnam is pervasive, and has a particularly harsh impact on the youth.
Last year, Vietnam’s education ministry came up with guidelines for an LGBT inclusive sex education curriculum. However, this has not been implemented in schools yet.
“We need stronger steps from the government to tackle discrimination and create a safe and inclusive educational environment for our youth,” said director Ngo Le Phuong Linh of the ICS Centre, an advocacy rights group in Vietnam.