Pride takes many forms. If taken too far pride can become more of a sin. If not taken far enough you may not move forward in many areas. When it comes to my projects and work here we work with key populations. Those populations are MSM (men seeking sex with men), FSW (female sex workers), TWG (transgendered women) and PWID (people who inject drugs). These are areas that are most at risk for HIV. The MSM (aka Gay) and TWG here have rates at almost 30%. In comparison, outside of Africa, the average rate is below 5%. So I take great pride in working with these key populations. As I have written about before I take great pride in working with my community, the MSM’s.
The month of August is Viet Pride month. In the states this would be called Gay Pride. They have events in every major city throughout the country. I tell people this and they are in shock and disbelief. But Vietnam is backwards. But Vietnam does not accept gays. But Vietnam makes being gay illegal. Allow me to set every rumor to rest. In the Asian world Vietnam is by far the most advanced as far as gay rights goes. It is not illegal. They recognized HIV as a disease before the USA. They are allowed to marry but it is not legal, but they no longer have to pay a fine. So they can have a ceremony. In the cities it is tolerated very well. There is a certain amount of shaming still because of the priority to produce an heir and that they have generational homes. Without children they fear no one will take care of them. The Vietnam MSM populations has a lot to be proud of. However there is still more work that needs to be done.
Part of my job is helping with safer sex commodities. So I had the privilege of working the Viet pride events in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I work with the CBO’s (community business organizations) to learn to proactively sell condoms, lubricants and help with them to get people to do HIV testing. These CBO’s are groups of people that are within those key populations that are social enterprises. They are a vital link in the distributions channel of safer sex goods and services.
Last weekend I helped SeaLight in Hanoi. The event there was in a large plaza and there were over 600 people that came by the booth. They also had a record number of people get HIV tests there. I told them they should be proud! The US ambassador did the bike ride and there were a lot of foreigners that came by. HCMC event was a bit rougher. The weather did not hold up and I was wet in the t-shirt I designed for the businesses there. It flooded a bit and my suitcase of prizes
basically floated away. However as Barbara Streisand sang: Don’t Rain on My Parade. The community carried on and the embraced me. A group, 3GVN, took me around all weekend to show me the city. They have a lot of pride in Saigon and in their community.
Also Path with the Vietnam Government successfully launched HIV self testing on Friday. This is an oral test that people can do at home. A large group from the community came to celebrate this launch. They know this will help more people get tested and it is a tool to help curb the HIV rates within the community. Again something to be proud of. The MSM community came in force and that force means something.
I hope that the people that do not feel pride within themselves can see these members of the community and gain the pride that need. With pride comes confidence. With confidence comes voice. With voices comes advocacy. With advocacy comes change. With change comes normalcy. Normalcy is such an important thing in this human experience. The need to be normal and accepted. My wish is that the entire community feels that normalcy one day. Great job Vietnam. I am proud of you!