If you are not 30 years old on May 17, it means that the world no longer treated homosexuality as a disease by the time you were born.
This change was not accidental. It resulted from thousands of studies and debates by scientists around the world on the nature of sexual orientation. It is accredited to people who spoke up, not for their own benefit, but based on their conscience.
In 1939, the application of researcher Everly Hooker to work at the Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles was denied because “there were three women in the department already”, and so she was hired to work as an assistant, but not official staff. Due to her outstanding performance, Everly worked there for more than three decades until her retirement. Throughout her academic career, she worked hard to prove that “homosexuality is not an illness.” Her co-workers refuted her research findings, believing it was unreliable. Many years later, on May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially removed homosexuality from its list of diseases and disorders, all thanks to Everly’s hard work. This day was also chosen as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
Everly Hooker is not homosexual herself. She simply has many homosexual friends and takes responsibility to fight alongside them for their rights. Everly Hooker is, however, a victim of gender discrimination and the gender roles prescribed by society at that time. Gender stereotyping makes us less sympathetic, less tolerant, and less wise. Gender bias narrows the ability of a person: what they can do, how strong or weak they can be, who they love and who they can become.
When did members of the gay community in Vietnam decide to ‘come out’? For how long have Vietnamese transgender people been visible to the public? For quite a long time, even before LGBT labels were used or people quite understood what exactly they were feeling. We can only know from the time they began to speak up and start reaching out, when they found their company, and when the voices of protest began to grow stronger.
Similarly, people who discriminate against the LGBT community have been using their voices for a long time. At a time when LGBT individuals are increasingly open, they remain the target of hate crimes and backlash throughout the world. Given that it has long been exclaimed that “Members of the LGBT community are not diseased and deserve equal rights as everyone else” then perhaps ‘LGBT’ can no longer be treated as a label of stigma. In other words, if you don’t like LGBT people being open or proud, try to convince the last person who is against them.
Nearly 30 years have gone by and many LGBT people still live as if they are considered mentally ill and morally depraved. Changing information within a medical document takes half a century, but changing the stigma deeply ingrained in society takes much more time than that, and is the responsibility of us all.
Transgender people in Vietnam are still longing to be recognized in the 2015 Civil Code. Homosexual, bisexual and queer people are still hoping that the Law on Marriage and Family 2013 would legalize same-sex marriage. Perhaps now, on every May 17, we must continue to remind each other that May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
Lương Thế Huy