The advocacy journey of the Law on Transgender in Vietnam

Over the past decade, the LGBT community has fought for their rights, including rights of equality and respect for gender diversity.

Every human is born with equal rights, but in reality, some are deprived of these rights. The LGBT community, in particular, and other vulnerable groups have undergone and will continue to pursue the long journey towards true social equality.

Inclusion of LGBT people in the law

Currently, the legal status of LGBT people remains a difficult question. Lawyer Trinh Quang Chien from the Center of Legal Support and Consultancy noted: “Vietnamese laws have recognized the human rights of LGBT people, which, in my opinion, is considerable progress. The Law on Marriage and Family in 2000 prohibited same-sex marriage, but the 2014 version no longer bans it. However, the state has still not recognized same-sex marriage. The 2015 Civil Code recognized transgender rights stated in Articles 36 and 37, which is a huge change in Vietnam.”

Luật sư Đinh Hồng Hạnh chia sẻ về luật cho người chuyển giới tại Việt Nam. Ảnh: CLB Nhà tư vấn Luật LCC - FTU.
Lawyer Dinh Hong Hanh sharing about transgender law in Vietnam. Photo: Law Consultant Club – FTU 

Dinh Hong Hanh, a lawyer with five years of experience providing legal consulting to Vietnamese non-governmental and civil society organizations, explains, “Vietnamese legislation does not have any general legal document mentioning concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. In legal documents, when different groups are mentioned, they usually refer to a law’s target groups or regional groups; and discrimination covers the categories of race, sex, origin, and skin color.” It doesn’t specifically mention gender identity or sexual preference.

Because LGBT people are not expressly mentioned or represented in the law, they face a number of obstacles and disadvantages at work and in their private life. For example, because of the difficulty in changing identity documents, transgender people are stuck in a “female in reality, but male on paper” situation and lose many job opportunities. Moreover, the current situation also creates trouble in daily social activities, something as simple as using a restroom.

Người chuyển giới đang đối mặt với nhiều trở ngại trong pháp lý. Ảnh: Theo ANTĐ.
Transgenders facing a lot of legal struggles. Photo: ANTĐ

No exact definition of “sex change” yet

“Although the revised 2014 Civil Code recognizes the right to change one’s sex, it does not provide a clear definition of sex change or what changes will be considered a sex change (e.g. only hormones, change to outward appearances, or must one undergo operations on sex markers). Laws on sex change have not yet existed in Vietnam,” explains lawyer Dinh Hong Hanh.

Experts and lawyers working in the field of LGBT rights also share that presently there is a legal “race” run by ICS Center, Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), Ministry of Health, and other relevant agencies to pass the “Law on Transgender.” The law will clearly explain criteria for recognizing transgender people in Vietnam and allow legal changes to identity documents.

ICS Center Director, Tran Khac Tung, provided further information on the process of transgender policy advocacy. “ We are studying how to define ‘sex change.’ For the community, I want the conditions to be as open as possible since not every transgender person is physically, mentally and economically prepared for a comprehensive operation.”


Ông Trần Khắc Tùng, Giám đốc ICS. Ảnh: Một thế giới.
Mr. Tran Khac Tung, CEO ICS. Phôt: Mot the gioi

On the other hand, regarding anti-discrimination laws, speaker Le Phan Anh Thu, LGBT Rights Program Officer of iSEE explains: “All our efforts aim at the inclusion of five words in Article 8 of the Labour Code, which is to end discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’”

Some rights advocates are of the opinion that an anti-discrimination against LGBT people should not be included because there is still no legal document yet recognizing LGBT people. Instead, the discrimination laws should use inclusive expressions that cover any group under any circumstance.

Lawyer Dinh Hong Hanh affirmed: “When policymakers give the minority group, for whom we are advocating, more opportunities to access equality, it will create two advantages. First, they can raise awareness about minority groups who need to be respected and protected. Second, the protection of one group also means the protection for other ones. There is no such thing in which the protection of one group coming at the cost of limiting another.”

An Nguyên  (Doi song & Phap ly)