Sunny Ho volunteered as a Counselling Support Officer with ICS – Information, Connection and Sharing in Vietnam. ICS is a not-for-profit organisation working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people throughout Vietnam.
“I was one of the thousands of visitors to the annual VietPride event, a celebration of the LGBT community in Vietnam. When I looked into the crowd, I noticed that many were young. In fact, about 40 per cent of people living in Vietnam are under 24 years old. They include the leaders of the LGBT movement” says Sunny.
Sunny explains that the LGBT movement in Vietnam began online with the creation of forums for gay men and women. The volunteer website administrators who established these online forums eventually came to form Information, Connection and Sharing (ICS) in 2008.
ICS was the first organisation to work exclusively to promote the rights of LGBT people in Vietnam. The organisation has trained journalists on how to portray LGBT issues more positively, it has campaigned for the recognition of same-sex marriage, and established Vietnam’s first Parents and Friends of LGBT Association.
Sunny’s assignment was to help develop a counselling service for LGBT people. This turned out to be more complicated than initially thought. One of Sunny’s biggest challenges was building his capacity to trust and work across cultures.
“In the beginning, it was a slow kind of chaos but eventually the counsellors were trained. We developed policies and procedures, launched services, and adjusted marketing campaign strategies” explains Sunny.
LGBT Vietnam at a glance:
- Same-sex relationships are not recognised by law.
- It is illegal for transgender people to receive gender reassignment surgery.
- A 2014 United Nations Development Programme report found that LGBT people in Vietnam may experience violence in the family, bullying at school, and discrimination in the workplace.
- The Australian Government is supporting ICS in its mission to unite and empower Vietnamese LGBT people to live positively and to advocate and defend their human rights.