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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at Consultation Workshop on LGBT rights issues

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Date: 15 May 2015
Event: Consultation Workshop on LGBT rights issues
Venue: Melia Hotel, 44B Ly Thuong Kiet St., Hanoi

Excellency Ambassador of USA Mr Ted Osius
Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us today at this important event.

Every year around this time, people of all genders and sexualities, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, their friends and allies come together to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, to call for elimination of stigma and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality.

I remember a girl once said at one of our consultation meeting that her parents beat her and kicked her out of the house because of the way she looked and dressed and because of who she is.

She lived on the street for years, in loneliness and in fear of being harassed.

Her desperation even forced her to attempt suicide. She is a transgender girl.

The only reason for her to be discriminated against, to be denied a home, education, or means of living.

Being transgender is not a reason to be denied the right to live in dignity and grow to full potential.

LGBT people in Viet Nam face many challenges in healthcare, education, and employment, to name a few.

Access to health services is limited, while discrimination against people of diverse gender and sexuality in healthcare facilities is widespread.

As a result, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been one of the most affected populations by HIV epidemic in Viet Nam.

However, less than 30% of them got tested and knew their status in 2013.

Stigma and discrimination drive many LGBT people to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity and prevent them from seeking appropriate services when in need.

Amidst these challenges, the LGBT community has grown more visible and vocal in showing its pride and raising its voice.

From hiding in fear and darkness, they have moved to revealing themselves, reach out to their friends and family, join hands and move forward.

They no longer want to feel vulnerable; they want to strive to become leaders, lead social transformation, advocate for their own rights, provide support and services to their peers, and bring positive changes for themselves, their community and be integrated.

In step with these changes, there is increasing support from the Government and National Assembly of Viet Nam to strengthen policies that support the LGBT community and their needs.

We are very happy to see that the Government and the National Assembly have taken some steps to protect the rights of LGBT people, notably the removal of the ban on marriage between two people of the same sex in the Law on Marriage and Family last year.

Moreover, the Government has taken into consideration the desire of transgender people to be themselves, to change their gender and gender mark, by consulting them during the revision of the Civil Code.
We cannot continue to let the minorities suffer because the majority has not understood them, their emotions and needs. This is why even UN took a long time before talking about reality of LGBT.

Lack of social awareness cannot be an excuse to delay the legal protection of LGBT people.

On the contrary, progressive laws and policies can be a strong ground to advance the rights of the marginalized groups and bring about positive social and cultural changes, similar to what is being the gender equality movement in Viet Nam.

Legal changes are necessary to promote change as well as for social awareness, and it is our responsibility to protect LGBT people like all other human beings by creating progressive legal frameworks and an enabling environment.

Just last year, India officially recognized transgender people to change gender marker in their passports, protecting the rights of million such people.

Also last year, Viet Nam was one of the countries which helped pass the Human Rights Council resolution on Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, underlining its commitment to advance human rights of all people, including those who belong to gender and sexual minorities.

Being a minority should not deny a person’s basic human rights, including the rights to be oneself, to love, to create a family, and most importantly, to be free from discrimination and violence.

With all this in mind, the United Nations in Viet Nam will continue to empower people of diverse gender and sexuality, strengthen their capacity to advocate for their rights, and stand by their side through their challenges.

We will also support the Government and the National Assembly to better understand the reality of LGBT people living in this country and protect the rights of this marginalized population.

Once again, on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, I would like to call for a stop to violence and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality, or just for being different in any way.

Xin cam on!