The 71-year-old mother who fights for gay rights in Vietnam

By Kieu Oanh, Thanh Nien News

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 Le Xuan Tu, 31, and his 71-year-old mother at a conference on LBGT in Ho Chi Minh City on January 27, 2015. Photo: Chuong Dang

All heads turned when she took the stage at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City last week to promote support for gays and lesbians. 
The 71-year-old from the outskirts of Hanoi did not miss a beat.
She stayed calm, introduced herself as Thi, and sang a traditional folk song popular in her village.
Then she began her story. 
“His name is Le Xuan Tu. He is 31 years old, my fourth and youngest child. His father died four days after I gave birth to him,” she told the conference.
The family began to talk about his sexuality when his eldest brother thought that Tu was gay. They forced him to get married. 
“I had an idea about what being gay means, but I still forced him anyway. But he always avoided by saying that marriage is his own affair,” Thi said.
Then three years ago, she read him a poem about a mother’s love after he came home late.
“I hugged him and I cried. He said he loved me but he could not live different as my wish. Then he told me he's gay,” Thi said. 

Thi (R) joins activities with parents of LGBT children. Photo: Chuong Dang 
'She always listens' 
That was the first and only time Thi cried because of her son’s sexual orientation
“Any mother would love her child and want him to have an easy life... If I can choose, I want him to be just like other people who get married, have children and live happily,” she said.
“But it is his life,” she said. 
Thi said some neighbors called him names, but she disregarded them.
"It is only important whether my son is a good person.”
The conference, organized by by Ho Chi Minh City-based activist group ICS, gathered supporters for and families of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. 
A farmer, Thi said she could only learn about the community from her son because she did not know how to access the Internet to study and there was no LGBT support group in her hometown.
“She always listens and learns,” Tu said.
Support networks
Last year, Thi came to Hanoi to meet other parents of LGBT children.
“I am a country woman who is slow and uneducated. I don’t understand everything he said. I have to study more to know my son,” she said.
Thi officially became a member of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays network) when it inaugurated in HCMC last month.
Dinh Thi Yen Ly, one of PFLAG founder, said there are two types of mothers who accept their LGBT children.
“Some have thorough understanding about LGBT, and some just have great love for their children and are willing to accept their children.”
“Thi belongs to the second group: she accepted her son even though she had little knowledge about homosexuality,” Ly said.

Thi performs a northern folk song at the inauguration of a network for parents of LBGT. Photo: Chuong Dang
As for Tu, he said he is lucky to have a mother who is willing to listen to him.
“But I still hope that my mother could accept me as I am. I hope she will also understand that homosexuality is just as natural as any natural things on earth,” he said. 
Following the launch of the PFLAG network, Thi and other members of the group also went HCMC's neighbor town of Vung Tau to organize another conference on LGBT in the beach town. 
“I will repair my house to have a place for parents of LGBT children like me to meet and share experience,” she said. 

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