Vietnam declares being gay ‘not an illness' 32 years after WHO declassification of homosexuality as disease

Nearly 50 years after the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — the organization behind the world’s gold standard for diagnosing mental illnesses — first declassified homosexuality as a disease, Vietnam has followed suit earlier this month.

The “huge paradigm shift” came in an Aug. 3 announcement sent by the Ministry of Health to local government units, including provincial and municipal health departments.

In its announcement, which was also posted online, the ministry declared that being LGBTQ-plus “is entirely not an illness,” which means it “cannot be ‘cured’ nor need[s] to be ‘cured’ and cannot be converted in any way.”

With this, health professionals should not “interfere nor force treatment” on LGBTQ-plus individuals, and any form of support must be provided only by experts on sexual identity, the ministry added.

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The declaration follows a series of progressive steps taken by the communist nation for its LGBTQ-plus community in recent years. In 2013, Vietnam permitted same-sex relationships, while it decriminalized changing one’s first name and legal gender for trans people in 2015.

However, the belief that homosexuality is a curable disease prevails in the country. This condition is reportedly influenced by the government’s failure in adopting the World Health Organization’s initial and succeeding positions on the subject.

Vietnam also lagged behind the APA, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the global gold standard for the diagnosis of psychiatric illnesses. The manual’s second edition, DSM-II, which was first published in 1968, listed homosexuality as a mental disorder.

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In 1973, 5,854 psychiatrists with the APA voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM. However, they replaced it with “sexual orientation disturbance” for people “in conflict with” their sexual orientation as a compromise to the 3,810 psychiatrists who voted to retain it.

It was only in 1987 when homosexuality completely fell out of the DSM. Thirty-five years later, Vietnam is catching up.

“This announcement that being LGBT is not a disease and condemning the practice of conversion therapy, this is like a dream,” Phong Vuong, who works as the LGBTI rights program manager at The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy, and Environment (iSEE), told Al Jazeera.

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“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.”

Kyle Knight, a senior researcher of health and LGBTQ-plus rights at Human Rights Watch, shared the same thoughts, saying “we cannot overstate how big a fix this announcement is.”

“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,” Knight said, according to The Guardian.

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Vietnam is not the only Asian country that made strides for the LGBTQ-plus community this month. On Aug. 20, Singapore announced that it will decriminalize sex between men, ending a colonial-era law that punished offenders with up to two years in prison.


Featured Image via TMD Team