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On navigating a 'normal' world for LGBT+ people

June 8, 2022 | 04:42 pm PT
Luong The Huy Social activist
Fighting for the rights of a minority is not a zero-sum game with winners and losers. The only cost of acceptance is the absence of hatred and discrimination.

In 2009 I first read a newspaper article titled "There are no abnormal people." It was about how people often use the word "normal" to describe someone who is not a homosexual.

The article also mentioned a project in which journalists would talk to young homosexual people to learn how to report on LGBT+ stories and their subjects better.

As a closeted gay person at the time I would always wonder why the things I read about being gay never matched my personal experience.

Being gay is not a disease and has never been a choice to be made. I'm gay, yet I'm not "overly feminine" or "prone to jealousy." I did not see me in books or newspapers, on TV or even in the law. So I embarked on a journey to find myself.

I researched the organization mentioned in the article, wanting to learn more about people like me. I learned it was the first organization campaigning for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people in Vietnam. It was not a club; it was a workplace with plans, strategies, vision, and missions.

The article I read was one of many training activities for journalists to cover LGBT+ stories. At the end of a two-day training program, journalists were supposed to meet and talk with people from the LGBT+ community. Everyone was both excited and anxious before the meet-up: some journalists had not met a homosexual person in real life, while the people in the organization did not know what the press would think of them.

Fortunately, it all worked out. The participants became fast friends and understood that not all people were discriminatory and gays were no different to "normal" ones.

After my graduation, I applied and became a member of the organization. In the 15 years I have spent on social work, especially in an area rife with prejudice and discrimination, I have witnessed stories from all walks of life.

I have seen joy and happiness, but also sadness and disappointment. The more I learn about my community, the more I know about myself. I see a part of me everywhere I look.

There was a young person of around 16-17 who went to an exhibition on same-sex love. The person stood around for a whole day and returned on subsequent days. On the last day of the exhibition, they left a message for the exhibition organizers saying they felt safer on the streets then after knowing an organization was fighting to protect their rights.

In a meeting with parents of LGBT+ people, a woman said it took her 15 years to accept that her child was homosexual. She said those 15 years had left many scars on both her and her child, scars she could never erase. She told other parents not to make the same mistake she did.

Each person in the LGBT+ community I have met is like any other you will meet out there. They have hopes and fears and dreams, and all they want is to be who they are and to be accepted as they are. But to many, they are troublemakers, rebels and deviants, who fight only for their own rights and no one else's, corrupt the young and erode "traditional Vietnamese values."

What LGBT+ people want, the things they want to be recognized by the law, do not and will not violate the rights and interests of other people.

This is not a zero-sum game where someone has to lose for others to win.

Giving people the freedom to be who they are and love whomever they want to will only result in a freer society. The only cost of this will be discrimination and hatred.

Envisioning such a society is simple, but to realize it is a different story. If the majority is always the norm, does that mean the minority is not? Does that mean everyone has to conform to the will of the majority?

Acceptance has never been about making the majority bow to the demands of the minority. The only thing dividing us and holding us back are the gender roles, stereotypes and boxes we put ourselves in. By making those boxes bigger, or better yet, making them disappear, we can all get closer to true equality.

But here's a contradiction. The more we try to get rid of differences in the world, the more problems we will inevitably create. Only when diversity and its acceptance thrive can we bring happiness to each and every single one of us.

People in Vietnam often call the LGBT+ community the "third world". I believe there is no first, second, third, or fourth world out there. There is only one world, and that world is big enough for all of us.

*Luong The Huy is a social activist and director of iSEE, a non-profit working for the rights of minorities. The opinions expressed are his own.

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