The Hanoi LGBTI rights and gender equality activist and director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) has nominated himself for the elections to the National Assembly and Hanoi People’s Council on May 23.
“With knowledge of law and experience in social works, I want to contribute (to the development of the country) and share my opinions as a representative of the people…, the young and the minority,” Huy told VnExpress International.
The 33-year-old, an openly gay man, began LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons) advocacy work in 2008 and was on Forbes Vietnam’s ‘30 Under 30’ list of the most inspiring young people in 2016.
After getting a master of law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a specialization in law and sexuality, he returned to Vietnam and took over as director of iSEE, which “works for the rights of minority groups in Vietnam to envision a more equal, tolerant and free society in which everyone’s human rights are respected and individuality valued.”
Luong The Huy, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE). Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai.
That an openly gay man is running for National Assembly and People’s Council seats has inspired the LGBTI community, which hopes the public will take a fairer view of it.
“I am thrilled to see an openly gay man run for politics in Vietnam, because people normally think LGBTI are ‘bad guys’ and more people like Huy will make them change their view about us,” Nguyen Hoang, a gay man in Hanoi, said.
An online survey of gay men by iSEE found that only 13.5 percent work in art and entertainment, well behind customer service (18 percent) and only slightly more than in research, science, and technology (11.4 percent).
LGBTI people are also often stereotyped as seeking relationships in unsafe places associated with unwholesome lifestyles such as bars, nightclubs, public parks, and streets, having multiple partners at the same time or constantly changing partners, and committing crimes and antisocial acts.
“In Vietnam, we do not have representatives of LGBTI community in spheres like security, the military and politics,” Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, said.
She said a gay man like Huy contesting elections shows the positive evolution of the LGBTI community, society and domestic politics, which are open enough for a gay person to run for the NA.
Saigon-based LGBTI activist Huynh Minh Thao said Huy has brought pride to the LGBTI community and should make all Vietnamese proud that their society has given minority groups the confidence and trust to raise their voices.
“We should be proud because eventually we now have an openly LGBTI person who is qualified and an open society that gives people like Huy the confidence to seek to become leaders.”
Huy himself does not hide his ambitions to represent young people and members of minority and diverse communities.
“Basically, my strength is understanding policies, notably on gender equality,” he said, but hastened to add he also cares about other public problems.
As one of the youngest people to nominate themselves for a seat in the National Assembly, Huy is also a beacon of hope for young people.
After he confirmed he was running for a seat in the national and Hanoi legislatures, a Facebook group called “Hanoi bau Luong The Huy?” (Hanoi votes for Luong The Huy?) was set up and has attracted nearly 1,000 members, mostly youngsters, to discuss Huy’s profile and agenda and the coming elections.
Analysts hailed the fact that more and more young people care about politics and the country is a positive sign.
“Discussions related to Huy helps young people become more open,” Thao said.
Hong was also optimistic, saying politics is not only about running for elections but also about doing business, being creative, protecting the environment, helping the community, etc.
“I see many young faces rising, and we should encourage young people by listening to them and giving them a helping hand.”
But the road to winning the elections will surely not be smooth.
“I do not hate gay people, I just do not feel comfortable with a gay man being in our National Assembly,” one person said on Facebook.
Thao said Huy, as a gay man, has both advantages and disadvantages in the elections.
“He brings diversity to the list of candidates, which will improve the image of Vietnam. But many people do not have a fair view about the LGBTI community, and it can affect the way they vote.”
In Vietnam, which by Asian standards is quite progressive on LGBTI issues, marriage and family laws stop short of recognizing same-sex marriages and attendant rights such as adopting children.
According to the iSEE survey, the media also often tries to find the “causes” of homosexuality, identifying it either as an unfortunate innate biological illness or as a contagious, lifestyle-induced social problem.
“In fact, there is still discrimination and denial targeted at LGBTI people,” Hong said.
Huy’s action should be a motivation for the country to move forward toward equality, she said.
On May 23, voters across the country will choose 500 deputies to the 15th National Assembly from 868 candidates.
Of the candidates, 203 have been nominated by central agencies and 656 by localities. The remaining nine are self-nominated.
“If I am trusted, my choice and duty is to represent the younger generations and focus on their issues,” Huy said.