After moving back to her home country after six years studying and working in Singapore, 25-year-old Tam Nguyen is organizing the first ever LGBT Pride celebration in Vietnam.
Gay Star News talks to her about her Swedish inspiration and why Vietnam is the only country in Asia considering legalizing gay marriage.
How did you become involved in organizing Viet Pride?
I was sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency to go to Stockholm Pride in 2011 and that was a huge inspiration for me to do this.
This May I started thinking about doing something that involves Sweden and Vietnam, because the Swedish Embassy have been running an LGBT project in Vietnam since 2009.
I decided that Pride would be the best thing because no one has ever organized one before in Vietnam and it's likely that I can get sponsorship from the Swedish Embassy. In the end they covered about 90% of the cost.
Why hasn't there been a Pride in Vietnam before now?
The most easy reason to cite is that I wasn't in Vietnam before!
But my colleagues in CSAGA (Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents) say that the reason why we didn't have Pride before 2012 is because people believe that Pride must be something very big, with thousands of people, a big parade and lots of activities. So nobody did it.
But from my perspective the most important thing about Pride is that you send out the message to the public that the gay community exists, because in many countries including Vietnam people still deny the existence of this community.
Pride also shows those who are still in the closet that they can find the community and that they do not stand alone in this world.
This is also a good chance for the LGBT people to organize something for themselves, as most of the activities in Vietnam are done by NGOs or non-LGBT people.
How long have you been planning it for?
I had in the idea in the middle of May and I spent one and a half months fundraising. Nobody responded to my proposal for the first three weeks. I submitted it to many embassies and development agencies, but nobody responded.
The first one who responded to my email was the Goethe Institute and they said we could use their auditorium for free. Then the Canadian Embassy, they donated a small amount of money.
After the Canadian Embassy came the Swedish Embassy and they covered the rest of the cost.
Do you have a big team helping you?
Absolutely not. In Vietnam people are not familiar with volunteering and it is hard to get people to work for free.
And for those who are willing to work without payment, you have to start from scratch and many of them cannot speak English, but I want Viet Pride to be bilingual. So that was one of the challenges.
But still, there are some young people from the LGBT community who have been super helpful and I would like to name them - Sy Nguyen, Hoang Ngan and Bao Hong. Their contribution deserves recognition.
What about Viet Pride are you most excited about?
What makes me very excited is the very supportive response from the UN organisations. They are spending quite generously to organise a press conference for Viet Pride tomorrow, so local media as well as international media and UN agencies can learn about the event in a proper way.
The cycling parade on 5 August sounds great. How many people are you expecting?
So far I've got about 250 to vote online that they will come for the bike parade, but I expect only half of them to show up.
I have to ask you about gay marriage because the world has been amazed at the recent words and actions of the Vietnamese government on the issue: they launched a consultation in June and last week the Minister of Justice commented very positively about same-sex couples rights. Do you think gay marriage will be legalized in Vietnam in the next year or so?
Marriage is a very sensitive word. I guess we all know that President Obama has already mentioned the words gay marriage several times and he himself acknowledges that marriage is a very sensitive word because it relates to religion and culture.
I don't think that gay marriage is going to be legalized in Vietnam, but I think that civil union rights are likely to happen in a couple of years.
Why do you think the government are discussing the issue now?
The reaction of government is actually very surprising to me given their record on other issues. This is a special case.
It strikes me even more when the Minister of Justice spoke on TV and mentioned a review of the law on marriage to consider same-sex marriage. He couldn’t say whether they are going to legalize it or not, but he emphasized that in many countries in the world same-sex marriage has been legalized and homosexuality is not a mental illnesses. And he said that no matter whether or not the government legalizes it, society should not hold a negative attitude towards gay people.
Wow, those words seem really enlightened, especially compared to other countries in Asia. Chinese government officials never mention gay people and in Malaysia politicians say LGBT people have no rights. What is it about Vietnam that is different?
One of the reasons might be that because of the advocacy for gay rights that has happened in Vietnam for almost a decade.
I think CSAGA has done advocacy for three and a half years to protect the rights of lesbian people. And iSEE, another NGO, has been very active with regard to marriage and family law. They have played a huge role in liaising with government agencies in order to provide scientific knowledge and community consultation. They have been pushing for gay rights in Vietnam for a long time.
Viet Pride will be held from 3 to 5 August in Hanoi.