Vietnam’s gay rights movement, from home to street, shows at African film fest

By Thuy Vi, Thanh Nien News

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A French-directed film documenting LGBT community in Vietnam premiered at an African film festival Tuesday, portraying their struggle with family and social conflicts to win pride and acceptance.
Red Over the Rainbow” features the first two gay parades in Hanoi in 2012 and 2013, known as Viet Pride, as the milestones of the gay rights movement in Vietnam.
It profiles gays, lesbians and transgender people aged between 17 and 74 from Hanoi, including Nguyen Thanh Tam, an organizer of Viet Pride.
Most shared stories of how they learned about themselves before they had to persuade their families, usually in vain, that they are not having a disease or anything to be ashamed of.
Those are the stories told with anger, frustration and pain.
“The same way people have feelings for men, I have feelings for women,” a girl said of how she explained to her mother.
A gay man said he once took sleeping pills in an attempt to commit suicide.
He said he is willing to find a lesbian couple so he and his boyfriend could fake two marriages to serve the pressure from their families.
The 74-year-old gay man said only half of gay people he knows in Vietnam have a happy life.
While he himself does not take others’ judgment seriously, he said a gay friend of his married a woman just to satisfy his family. But after she delivered their first child, they divorced.
Vincent Baumont, who directed the film, brought it to the Zanzibar International Film Festival as he wants to show the fast-growing developments in the local LGBT community, which according to him could make Vietnam the first Asian country to legalize same sex marriage.
The country lifted its ban and punishment on gay partnership this year but has not officially recognized it with certificates or such.
Why “red”? “It’s the traditional color of marriage and love in Vietnam,” Baumont said.
He said the first gay pride in Vietnam was “really important” because it took place the same year that there was big debate in France and other countries about marriage equality.
“I felt Vietnam was very advanced, compared to the US or Europe. While I was doing the movie, same sex marriage was not legal in the US yet. Vietnam settled an example to western democracies that were so slow to take decisions.”
“You may think Vietnam is very conservative, but in some ways the Vietnamese may be more accepting than others,” Baumont said of how he engaged in the one-year project.
The 32-year-old graduated from fine arts and cinema schools in France. He went to Vietnam in 2009 and is now a freelance videographer in Hanoi.
One reason that his film was selected at the festival is because many countries in Africa are looking at the example Vietnam set in the recognition and acceptance of the LGBT movement, he said in an email.
“The audience was impressed and got involved.”
Same sex marriage and homosexuality are illegal in many countries in Africa the audience at the festival asked him a lot more questions than those he showed the film to in Myanmar, Italy or the US, he said.
The film is one of 27 documentaries screened this week at the festival, which is said to be the largest music, film and arts festival in East Africa.

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