Flags of colour
In Vietnam’s fashion and design world, Audrey Hieu Nguyen’s designs have become a trademark, with many actors, models, beauty queens, hot boys and hot girls attending important events including beauty contests donning her garb. Audrey Hieu Nguyen’s name reaches far beyond Vietnam’s borders, with one of her skirts being worn by Miss Yvette Blaess, Cuba’s representative for the Miss Grand International 2018 in Myanmar on October 20 recently.
People can easily recognize the idiosyncratic style of the designer, but not many people know that the 28-year-old is a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in Vietnam.
Audrey is extremely beautiful and very feminine with an appealing talking style. She became famous for having an outstanding record at university, graduating with honours from the California Academy of Art University, and is named as one of the Top 3 outstanding designers of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Audrey says that, although born in a man’s body, from a young age, she knew that she was a woman.
She has always liked make-up and other things that are usually reserved for girls, and growing up, she was always stressed and had to develop a tough exterior.
People often teased her or laughed at her sexuality and sexual orientation, and she struggled with society’s prejudices, taking a long time to come out. After a long struggle, she now feels satisfied and happy with her present life, although sometimes she still hears rumours and negative comments.
“Every morning when I wake up, I feel very uncomfortable as I cannot be the way I am. So I intend to go through with six reassignment surgery next year. I feel I need to do it because I feel comfortable and confident in doing so and I love myself, not for any other reason,” Audrey shared.
Speaking as an inspirational representative for the members of the LGBT community in Vietnam, Huong Giang, a singer and Miss International Queen 2018, is known as a talented young ‘dare to come out’.
Huong was not born in a wealthy family, nor were her parents engaged in the arts or entertainment industry. “During the journey to find myself, I twice wanted to commit suicide,” she said.
The first was when I had to think about the amount of money required for transgender surgery, about future difficulties, about pressure and objections from my family. The second was due to the side effect of the anesthetic.” But through endless effort to overcome these difficulties, Huong never stopped desiring to achieve more in her life.
“The moment I stood on the stage of the Miss International Queen 2018 and was awarded the highest honor in the pageant, I knew I was different,” said Huong Giang.
Audrey Hieu Nguyen and Huong Giang are just two of many LGBT individuals struggling to overcome their stigma to succeed and to be themselves. There are still many LGBT members in Vietnam who are neither engaged in art or the entertainment industry nor celebrities, but they are day by day, improving themselves, to be recognised and fully accepted by their families, friends and society.
They may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but their difference from the majority no longer makes them feel guilty, but rather becomes motivation to grow stronger everyday.
The power of the LGBT community
There is no accurate data on the number of LGBT people in Vietnam as many have yet to come out, but according to a survey conducted, Vietnam has an estimated 2.5 million LGBT people out of a population of more than 90 million people.
Although they only make up about 3% of the population, they still have their own community with increasingly abundant activities in both quantity and scope to express their voices and interests.
Therefore, although Vietnamese society has not completely eliminated societal discrimination against LGBT people, the LGBT concept has become popular and more and more non-LGBT people now feel able to be open about LGBT and their sexuality.
In every career, every field, and every position, there are people in the LGBT community. From a more open view of society, LGBT individuals are no longer self-contained but can freely express their sexuality as well as their personality. Many celebrities working in many different areas have come out as LGBT. Many same-sex weddings are receiving blessings from families, friends and society.
Events for the LGBT community across the country are also increasing in volume and quality, especially in the two main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The Viet LGBT Pride Festival, initiated in 2012, has become one of the most anticipated events of the LGBT community and supporters in Vietnam, with a host of relevant activities organized.
Six years since its appearance, Viet Pride has contributed significantly to important steps forward in law and in the social life of the LGBT community in Vietnam.
By 2015, the joy of the LGBT community in Vietnam was unbounded when they became officially recognized and protected by Vietnamese law. This is not only a remarkable milestone for transgender people, but it also brings hope to gay and lesbian communities in Vietnam.
In 2016, Vietnam topped the list of ideal destinations for LGBT travelers, as voted by the US paper the New York Times.
By attempting to mobilize a fight for rights and change the social view in a positive way, the Vietnamese LGBT community has made the rainbow flag (the common symbol of the LGBT community across the world) become a familiar and proud sight in Vietnam.
While there are still many controversies, undeniably, the success of each LGBT is a small rainbow flag that contributes to the strength of the whole community, towards a more positive view, accepting diversity, differences and contributions.