Vietnam’s health ministry has declared that being LGBTQ+ is “not an illness” in a major step forward

Vietnam’s health ministry has declared that being LGBTQ+ is “not an illness” in a major step forward for queer rights in the country.


The nation’s ministry of health said in an official document released in August that being LGBTQ+ is “entirely not an illness” and “cannot be ‘cured’ nor need[s] to be ‘cured’ and cannot be converted in any way”.


It urged medical professionals to treat LGBTQ+ people with respect. The health ministry also strongly condemned the pseudoscientific and traumatising practice of conversion therapy.


The directive told medical professionals not to “interfere nor force treatment upon these groups”. If any support is needed, the health ministry advised it be in the “form of psychological assistance and performed only by those who have the knowledge of sexual identity”.


Vietnam’s new directive came after tireless advocacy by LGBTQ+ rights activists in the southeast Asian nation.

Phong Vuong – the LGBTI rights programme manager at the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy, and Environment (iSEE) – told Al Jazeera that seeing the announcement was “like a dream”.


“It is something that we never thought would have happened, let alone coming from the most trusted source for medical information in Vietnam … I think the impact on queer youth will be very, very evident,” Vuong said.


Activists described the new directive as a critical step forward as it affirms that being LGBTQ+ “is not something you can fix”.


Vuong added it was a critical step forward as it affirms that being LGBTQ+ “is not something you can fix”.

“When a queer child gets taken to a medical facility … if they know about this, it can be used to defend themselves,” Vuong said.

Kyle Knight, senior health and LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the recognition that sexual orientation and gender identity are not illnesses will no doubt “bring relief” to countless queer people and their families in Vietnam.


“LGBT people in Vietnam deserve access to health information and services without discrimination, and the health ministry’s new directive is a major step in the right direction,” Knight said.

Knight said Vietnam’s health ministry has now “boosted fundamental rights” and that LGBTQ+ people now have an “increasingly firm grounding for expressing themselves without fear of negative reactions”.


In the wake of the new directive, iSEE and LGBTQ+ rights group ICS Center is pushing for legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Vietnam. The Tôi Đồng Ý, or I Agree Campaign, was launched on 10 August and has already surpassed its initial goal of 250,000 signatures.


“It’s been great just participating and witnessing this,” Dieu Anh Nguyen, who works for ICS in Ho Chi Minh City, told Al Jazeera. “I think we are basically making history.”


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