Eric Pham’s goal as an LGBTQ activist is simple - no queer person should feel alone.
Around the world, millions of young queer folk know they are different. And, that difference creates isolation and, for too many, the belief that they are alone in the world. “I was raised in the Vietnamese countryside, where being gay is something strange, and the gay kids have no idea about who they are and how many people like them are out there. I met a lot of difficulties in defining myself as well as learning about what it means to be LGBTQ when the information from the media was very negative,” says Eric.
Instead of accepting that this isolation and sadness are part of many queer persons’ lives, Eric chose to take action by helping found Hanoi Queer. “When I moved to the city to study and work and I realized that there is an LGBTQ community and I was not the only one. And, I realized the difficulties of my childhood are not something other youth should face. I want to help more young queer people to feel connected and not have to be alone.”
Hanoi Queer began as an informal chat group where queer young people could meet to expand their social circle. In the two years since its founding, the organization has grown to include 26 volunteer coordinators organizing multiple social events each month featuring queer cinema, stand-up comedy, and karaoke. These fun activities draw sizable crowds where attendees are entertained and informed on their rights and upcoming opportunities to engage in the struggle for full equality.
Vietnam is relatively progressive on LGBTQ issues and signed the United Nations 2016 mandate of the right of LGBT people - joining other Asian nationsSouth Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Nepal, and Mongolia. Gay Pride celebrations have sprouted across the country since the first parade was held in Hanoi in 2012.
In 2014 Vietnam made it legal to hold same-sex weddings, but the relationships are not afforded the legal rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex marriages. The transgender community won a victory in 2015 when a law was passed allowing those who have undergone reassignment surgery to legally register under their chosen identity. However, reassignment surgery is still illegal within the country.
These partial victories require a strong and informed community to demand full acceptance and access for LGBTQ people. This grassroots community organizing is what motivated Eric to help found Hanoi Queer. “I realized a lot of working groups were active in LGBTQ awareness or LGBTQ rights, but there were still gaps in community development. So we founded Hanoi Queer and set our mission to advocating for a friendlier Hanoi by focusing on connectivity and promoting queer culture.”
Hanoi Queer’s cultural focus is on top-level display now as they join with the Australian Embassy in Hanoi to make Vietnam’s first LGBT Mardi Gras celebration not simply a fun celebration but also a very meaningful event of diversity and self-expression for the LGBT community. Hanoi Mardi Gras features a month of creative and educational events across the city and culminating with an event on March 24 at the Australian Embassy featuring entries from the “Road to Mardi Gras” storytelling contest and “Colours of Mardi Gras” costume contest. “Madi Gras, will, hopefully, bring us the motivation and inspiration to show all aspects of the queer community here,” notes Eric.
Full acceptance and equality remain to be realized for LGBTQ Vietnamese. But, as the work of Hanoi Queer inspires activists in other cities to take up the cause of grassroots community building it could be realized sooner than one might imagine.