Vietnam declares being LGBTQ+ is ‘not an illness’

Campaigners hail landmark decision as a ‘huge paradigm shift’ in attitudes towards sexuality. 

Being gay, bisexual or transgender should not be considered an illness and cannot be treated, the Vietnam government has announced in “a huge paradigm shift” in LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

The Ministry of Health said medical professionals should treat LGBTQ+ people with respect and ensure they are not discriminated against.

In an announcement sent to provincial and municipal health departments earlier this month, and posted on the government website, the ministry said being LGBTQ+ “is entirely not an illness” so it “cannot be ‘cured’ nor need[s] to be ‘cured’ and cannot be converted in any way”.

It said that medics should not “interfere nor force treatment” on LGBTQ+ patients. If any support is needed, “it must be in the form of psychological assistance and performed only by those who have the knowledge of sexual identity”, said the ministry.

The breakthrough follow years of campaigning by LGBTQ+ rights groups. In November, the Leave with Pride campaign from the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy, and Environment (iSEE) petitioned the World Health Organization in Vietnam to affirm that being gay is not a disease. In a video, the iSEE posed the question: If queerness is a disease, shouldn’t LGBT+ Vietnamese be able to get sick leave?

In April, the WHO’s representative in Vietnam, Kidong Park, issued a statement confirming that any attempt to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ+ people “lacks medical basis and is unacceptable”.

“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.”

iSEE and LGBTQ+ rights group ICS Center is now calling for legislation to allow same-sex marriage in the country.

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