Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Viet Nam: Treatment of homosexuals, including legislation, availability of state protection and support services

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 8 January 2010
Citation / Document Symbol VNM103323.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Viet Nam: Treatment of homosexuals, including legislation, availability of state protection and support services, 8 January 2010, VNM103323.E, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Various sources report that homosexual acts are not criminalized in Viet Nam (ILGA May 2009, 48; n.d.; Gay Times n.d.). However, some sources note that homosexuals in Vietnam largely keep their sexuality hidden (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; Thanh Nien 19 Feb. 2009; AFP 11 Aug. 2008). In particular, gay Vietnamese fear the "social stigma" associated with homosexuality (Thanh Nien 20 Aug. 2009; GlobalGayz Jan. 2008). Bong, a Vietnamese word meaning shadow (Time 6 Oct. 2008; AFP 11 Aug. 2008) or silhouette (ibid.) is used as a derogatory term for homosexuals (Time 6 Oct. 2008; AFP 11 Aug. 2008). According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the word "suggests that they are 'shadows of normal men'" (ibid.).

In addition, media sources note that Vietnamese face strict societal and family demands to conform by getting married and starting families (Edge 13 Aug. 2008; AFP 11 Aug. 2008; GlobalGayz Jan. 2008). A January 2008 report by GlobalGayz, an international gay travel and culture site, states that "90% of LGB [lesbian, bisexual and gay] folks in Vietnam are married" to partners of the opposite sex (GlobalGayz Jan. 2008). GlobalGayz also interviews a gay man who opinions that lesbians "have it even worse than gay men" due to greater social and family pressure on women (ibid.).

However, sources report that overt hostility towards homosexuals is not common (GlobalGayz Jan. 2008; US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; Gay Times n.d.). According to GlobalGayz, "'gay bashing' is almost unheard of in Viet Nam" (Jan 2008). Sources report that the majority of Vietnamese are largely unaware of homosexuality (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5; GlobalGayz Jan. 2008; ibid. June 2007). Online gay magazine Gay Times also notes that "life has become much easier for gays and lesbians" in the last ten years (n.d.).

Gay oriented websites note a developing "gay scene" centered in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi (Gay Times n.d.; n.d.)., a gay travel website, reports that there are also some gay and gay-friendly establishments in smaller cities throughout the country ( n.d.a.). GlobalGayz also states that there are "little pockets of LGTB [lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual] expression in the smaller cities like Hoi An and Hue" (GlobalGayz Jan. 2008).

Legislation and treatment by authorities

While homosexuality is not illegal in Viet Nam (ILGA May 2009, 48; n.d.; Utopia-Asia n.d.b), homosexuals are not protected against discrimination (Pink News 26 Oct. 2007; Gay Times n.d.). Some gay travel sources note that homosexual conduct can be prosecuted for "undermining public morality" (ibid.; GlobalGayz June 2007; n.d.b). Gay news sources report that same-sex marriages are illegal (Pink News 26 Oct. 2007; Gay Times n.d.). According to Gay Times, gay marriage was banned in 1998 after officials failed to stop two lesbian weddings from occurring (ibid.).

In a 2 May 2008 article, the Ho Chi Minh City-based newspaper Thanh Nien quotes the head of the Hanoi-based STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS Prevention Center as saying that "[t]hose who are open about their sexuality cannot even get an ID card or work for public companies"; corroborating information on such restrictions could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, the United States (US) Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008 states that there is "little evidence of discrimination based on sexual orientation" (US 25 Feb. 2009, Sec. 5).

GlobalGayz reports that police generally leave gay people alone, at least in Saigon (Jan. 2008). Further information on treatment by police could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Support services

News sources report that there are several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing support services to homosexuals: according to Than Nien, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE) is a non-profit organization created in 2007 to assist ethnic minorities, people infected with HIV/AIDS and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community while promoting understanding of the LGBT situation in society (Than Nien 27 Apr. 2009). In addition, the ISEE supports a project called the Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS) which was set up to counter misconceptions and false information about homosexuality in the Vietnamese media (ibid.). Green Pine is a self-help group for gay people founded by an advocate who gained high-profile attention by publishing his experiences as a gay man in Viet Nam (VNS 23 Aug. 2008; AFP 11 Aug. 2008). As well, the Hanoi-based Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) researches and provides counselling on issues related to sexuality and sexual health (IASSCS n.d.), including advocacy for men who have sex with men (MSM) (Than Nian 11 July 2009). Gay support groups Hai Dang (Lighthouse), Khat Vong Song (Hope to Live) and Bau Troi Xanh (Blue Sky) exist in different areas of the country (Thanh Nien 2 May 2009). Further information about these groups was not found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 11 August 2008. Tran Thi Minh Ha. "Diary Aims to Shed Light on Gay Vietnam." (Factiva)

Edge [Boston]. 13 August 2008. Kilian Melloy. "'Bong' Reveals Gay Experience in Vietnam." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]

Gay Times [London]. N.d. "Vietnam." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]

GlobalGayz. January 2008. Richard Ammon "Gay Vietnam (Saigon, Hoi An and Hue): Crouching Love, Hidden Passion." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2009]
_____. June 2007. Richard Ammon . "Gay Vietnam (Hanoi): Crouching Love, Hidden Passion." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009] N.d. "Infos Vietnam Gay Friendly." [Accessed 24 Nov. 2009]

International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS). N.d. "IASSCS Hanoi Conference 2009." [Accessed 18 Dec. 2009]

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). May 2009. Daniel Ottosson. State-sponsored Homophobia: A World Survey of Laws Prohibiting Same Sex Activity Between Consenting Adults. [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]

Pink News. 26 October 2007. Joe Roberts. "Vietnamese High School Pupils Accepting of Homosexuality." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]

Than Nien [Ho Chi Minh City]. 20 August 2009. Duo Tan. "Underground but Loud." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]
_____. 11 July 2009. Michael Smith. "NGO Introduces Antidiscrimination Toolkit for MSM Group." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]
_____. 27 April 2009. Pham Thu Nga. "Make a Difference by Accepting Differences." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]
_____. 19 February 2009. Bao Anh. "Homosexuals Still Feel the Media's Lash." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]
_____. 2 May 2008. "Things Looking Up for Gay Community." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2009]

Time. 6 October 2008. Martha Ann Overland. "Emerging From the Shadows." Asia edition. Volume 172, Issue 13. (Factiva)

United States (US). 25 February 2009. Department of State. "Vietnam." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008. [Accessed 23 Nov. 2009] N.d.a. "Travel and Resources: Vietnam." [Accessed 23 Nov. 2009]
_____. N.d.b. "On the Legality of Homosexuality in Vietnam ... " [Accessed 4 Dec. 2009]

Viet Nam News (VNS) [Hanoi]. 23 August 2008. "Bong: Gay Man Prints Life Story." [Accessed 27 November 2009]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to reach Information Connecting and Sharing (ICS), the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE) and the STDs/HIV/AIDS Prevention Centre (SHAPC) were unsuccessful.

Internet sources, including: Amnesty International (AI),, Global Voices Online, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), United Kingdom (UK) Home Office.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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