Free and equal

As published in Thanh Nien News on Friday, August 02, 2013 04:45:00

Can you imagine what it would be like to be afraid of pubic shame, of bullying or violence simply for being yourself?

Or what it would feel like to be to be kicked out of school, to lose the love of your family, or to be thought to be "abnormal" just because you are different?

Yet for millions of people that is still an everyday reality.

As Viet Nam celebrates Viet Pride 2013 this weekend, along with those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender I would once again like to share the words of our Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon:

"You are not alone. Your struggle to end violence and discrimination is a shared struggle".

On 26 July 2013 the UN launched 'Free& Equal', a global campaign to raise awareness of homophobic violence and discrimination, and to promote greater respect for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people everywhere.

Equality and freedom are enshrined in the Constitution of Viet Nam. Article 3 reads, "the State ensures and constantly fosters the people's rights as masters in all spheres, realizes the targets of building a prosperous life for its people, a strong country and an equitable, democratic and civilized society, ensuring the wellbeing, freedom and happiness of all citizens..."

Viet Nam is one of the few countries in the region not to criminalize homosexuality, and is actively , engaging with the LGBT community to discuss the everyday challenges and barriers they still face. The Government is open to discussion on how LGBT issues relate to current marriage and family law. Following civil society engagement with the Vietnamese media, clear attempts are being made to portray sexual diversity positively.

Yet, being , lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Viet Nam is still very challenging.

A recent UN supported national dialogue revealed that most parents still find it difficult to accept their children's sexual orientation, as it is seen to be different from the 'norm'. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people are physically and mentally assaulted and isolated at schools; are considered to be 'social evils' in the work place; and are discriminated against in healthcare, sometimes being subjected to procedures to try to 'cure' them.

While the law doesn't criminalize homosexuality, LGBT people are not protected when their rights are violated.

Together we must challenge negative stereotypes, and dispel toxic myths. We have to help people understand why we must stand up against homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination.

Discrimination is unacceptable on any basis. For everyone to be free and equal, there can be no exceptions.

This week lets celebrate and embrace difference with open-mindedness and understanding.

The United Nations has one simple message to the millions of LGBT people around the world:

You are not alone.

Together we will build a world that is free and equal.

Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam