Lan Phuong, one of the most well-known models in Vietnam, was trained by the PL Model Company. Even after hours of watching her conduct interviews and move up and down the catwalk, no one could guess she is transgender.
But apart from performing in PL fashion shows, she can hardly participate in major model competitions even though transgender models aren't explicitly banned from participating in these events.
“My greatest wish is to compete at professional competitions like other female contestants and not just contests organized for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals,” she said.
Phuong claims she was rejected by the organizers of last year's Vietnam’s Next Top Model due to her sexual idenitity.
A number of stunning transgender models have been rejected from similar competitions for the same reason, including Tram Anh, Franky Nguyen, Bao Anh, Hoang My.
Last year, the Department of Performing Arts asked organizers of the Vietnam’s Next Top Model 2013 to report their reasons for rejecting Lan Anh.
The contest organizers admitted that they had banned transgender contestants from participating.
Vo Trong Nam, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said that transgender models are only banned from beauty pageants.
“Decree 79 which regulates art and fashion performances does not prohibit transgender models from performing,” he said.
However, the country's largest modeling competitions do not accept transgender contestants, including Sieu Mau Vietnam (Vietnam Super-Model), Venus Model Look, Vietnam’s Next Top Model and Elite Model Look VN.
At a recent press briefing in Hanoi, the organizers of Elite Model Look VN said that the contestants must be over 18, have a high school diploma, a clean criminal record and no history of gender reassignment surgery.
Many transgender models say they do not have opportunities to advance in their careers because discrimination from low-level pageants denies them an opportunity to rack up titles.
Ta Nguyen Phuc, director of the PL Model Company said that transgender models should be allowed to compete in modeling competitions.
“If they satisfy all the requirements, why don't we let them try? The competition organizers are clearly discriminating against them,” he said.
Designer Thuan Viet also defended the right of transgender models to compete.
“I support all transgender individuals who are serious about competition and dream of becoming professional models.”