US Consul General Rena Bitter supports gay rights in Vietnam

By Minh Hung, Thanh Nien News

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US General Consul Rena Bitter (R) and ICS director Phan Cao Tung hold a board Toi Dong Y (I Do) to support LGBT rights. Photo: Minh Hung US General Consul Rena Bitter (R) and ICS director Phan Cao Tung hold a board Toi Dong Y (I Do) to support LGBT rights. Photo: Minh Hung

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The US Consul General has called for social acceptance of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) during an event in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday.

“LGBT people, especially youths – need to know they have allies, friends. Gay, straight, old and young – we must work together to promote acceptance and provide a safe place for LGBT youth,” Consul General Rena Bitter said.

Bitter was speaking at the launch of the LGBT Pride Month at the American Center in HCMC on Friday.

“What we have learned in our struggle to eliminate slavery, integrate schools, give women the right to vote, and allow interracial marriage is that what is popular is not always what is right.”

“It takes slow, often painful, work by individuals and organizations to encourage dialogue and advocate for change,” she said.

While debates over LGBT rights continue, "Americans can now say with confidence that LGBT rights are human rights,” she said.

Bitter said the US Consulate in HCMC recently issued the first fiancé visa to a same-sex couple in Vietnam.

“I am really proud that the [US] Ambassador [David Bruce] Shear joined the Toi Dong Y campaign in right here in Vietnam. And I am proud to be joining the campaign myself today,” she said.

Toi Dong Y (or I Do) is a campaign launched by LGBT community in Vietnam to call for social support of the group.

During the LGBT Pride Month, the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City and The United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) will hold several events, including speaker programs, film screenings, photo shows and a social media campaign.

Details of public events will be made available on the website and Facebook page of the US consulate.

The ICS Center, a network of LGBT in HCMC, will coordinate with organizers to raise awareness, advocate and protect the rights of the LGBT community.

Last month, the openly gay Ted Osius, a long-time member of the US diplomatic missions in Southeast Asia was nominated to be the next ambassador to Vietnam, according to the US Embassy in Hanoi.

During a session last month at the National Assembly – Vietnam’s parliament – the Social Affairs Committee proposed removing a ban on same-sex marriage while at the same time stating that Vietnam "does not recognize marriages between people of the same sex.”

An earlier version of the draft, which was introduced to lawmakers last October, proposed that the government grant same-sex couples the right to shared assets. That proposal, however, was removed from the final draft introduced to lawmakers on May 27.

The bill has been criticized by the Hanoi-based NGO Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) as failing to protect the rights of homosexuals and bisexuals in Vietnam.

“The bill continues to discriminate against homosexuals and does not protect the children of same-sex couples,” the LGBT rights advocate said in a statement.

Sixteen nations and parts of Mexico and the US have laws recognizing same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships.

Most of these are in Europe and South America. Polls conducted in various countries show that there is rising support for same-sex marriage across race, ethnicity, age, religion, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status.

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