Vietnam tells health workers to stop treating homosexuality as an illness


Vietnam’s health authorities have issued a directive to doctors and health professionals across the country instructing them to stop treating homosexuality as an illness. The move has been seen as a major progression for LGBTIQA+ rights in the country.

The directive told health workers that they should treat LGBTQ+ people with respect and ensure they are not discriminated against.

The statement said homosexuality was something that “is entirely not an illness” so it “cannot be ‘cured’ nor needs to be ‘cured’ and cannot be converted in any way”.

Health workers were told that if LGBT people did need psychological assistance it should only be carried out by trained professionals who have expertise in sexuality.

The announcement follows calls from local rights advocates who launched a video campaign that asked “If homosexuality is an illness, shouldn’t workers be able to get sick leave?”

Human Rights Watch welcomes the directive

“We cannot overstate how big a fix this announcement is,” said Kyle Knight, a senior researcher of health and LGBTQ+ rights at Human Rights Watch.

“While attitudes won’t change overnight, this marks a huge paradigm shift. As the most trusted source of medical authority in Vietnam, the impact on social perceptions of queerness will be enormous.

“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.”

Human Rights Watch authored a report in 2020 which documented how factual misunderstandings and negative stereotypes help fuel human rights abuses against LGBT people in Vietnam.

Their report found that the belief that same-sex attraction is a diagnosable, mental health condition is pervasive in the country, saying the false belief is rooted in the failure of the government and medical professional associations to effectively communicate that same-sex attraction is a natural variation of human experience.

Homosexuality has never been illegal but people face discrimination

The country is facing growing calls to allow for same-sex marriage and authorities have been slowly reducing barriers to LGBTIQA+ people that previously existed.

These include a 2015 decision allowing transgender people to change their name and gender on official documents. In 2013 the government removed the laws which fined non-heterosexual people for entering same-sex marriages, but it did not legalise same-sex marriage.

Homosexuality has never been illegal in Vietnam, but LGBT people face significant discrimination and prejudice.

OIP Staff

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