Vietnam’s laws, policies and decrees do not explicitly discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals but their rights are not legally protected and they are socially marginalised. The state promotes a model of a married heterosexual couple with two children in the media and through its public policy campaigns. Families that comply are able to obtain membership of the Communist Party and run for office; women are eligible for micro-credit programmes. Same-sex couples cannot marry and are thus ineligible for the benefits that married couples enjoy. Family laws, with regard to child custody, inheritance and property, do not protect same-sex couples.

On paper, Vietnam is a one-party state with highly restrictive laws on freedom of expression, civil association and organisation. In practice, the media are active, albeit under the control of the state. Vietnam has the highest internet usage of any country in Southeast Asia. Civil society groups, which traditionally did not exist in Vietnam, have rapidly emerged alongside other private and commercial actors since the late 1980s, when the country began implementing economic reforms, known as doi moi. Civil society includes LGBT groups.


This report was a collaboration between IDS and the Center for Creative Initiative in Health and Population (CCIHP) in Vietnam.

Case study

In order to understand how LGBT civil society organisations affect legal and social change with regard to the laws that regulate sexual norms and unions, this empirical study explored the following two examples of collective action in Vietnam:

1. The mobilisation strategies of civil society organisations to hold gay pride events.

2. Collective action to legalise same-sex ceremonies and marriages.

The case studies were written in close consultation with Vietnamese LGBT civil society actors and with formally and informally organised groups that are distinct from mass organisations. Researchers conducted a literature review, and conducted interviews with LGBT activists, national and international policy experts, researchers and development experts. 


The report used a combination of qualitative research methods: a literature review, interviews, and participatory data analysis and verification. The researchers reviewed legal documents, laws, decrees and decisions in four areas of law: (1) marriage and the family; (2) public security in relationship to public assembly; (3) the establishment and functioning of civil organisations; and (4) the provision and use of internet services and online data with relation to Vietnam’s constitution. The report also included: online media coverage of same-sex wedding ceremonies; VietPride activities in Vietnam in both English and Vietnamese; and online reports by INGOs (international nongovernmental organisations), the UN and Vietnamese NGOs about LGBT people, civil society and same-sex relations in Vietnamese and English. Peer-reviewed academic literature on civil society was consulted, alongside same-sex marriage and LGBT people in Vietnam using search terms with these words.

Based on the review, the research team developed a semi-structured questionnaire to conduct 15 interviews and three focus group discussions (FGDs) with 23 people on the mobilisation strategies of the CSOs that organised the gay pride parades and worked toward legalising same-sex ceremonies and marriages in 2012 and 2013.  Ten in-depth interviews were conducted in Vietnamese by two Vietnamese researchers; five interviews were conducted in English by the international researcher. Twenty-three people participated in three FGDs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  Two verification and validation workshops were held. The first was in Ho Chi Minh City on 23 December 2013 and the second was in Hanoi on 24 December 2013. There were 25 participants in each workshop.

Transgender at Work: Livelihoods for Transgender People in Vietnam

  • The laws in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam promote equality for all citizens and refer to ‘persons’ rather than ‘men’ or ‘women’. However, because of traditional gender norms, transgender people in Vietnam are facing severe stigma and discrimination in public, in schools, at home and in the workplace.
  • Before 1975, homosexuality and transgenderism were considered ‘social diseases’, ‘social evils’, and were targets for elimination in government health and public policies; after 1975, there was a higher emphasis on this as the public saw them as remnants of American neo-colonialism.
  • Transgender people have difficulty accessing services and rights as they cannot change their personal identification card, which is an obstacle to obtaining social services, housing and work. 
  • Gender roles and norms affect the employment practices, options and preferences of transmen and transwomen differently. 

Negotiating Public and Legal Spaces: The Emergence of an LGBT Movement in Vietnam

  • Over the past five years there has been a big increase in the public visibility of LGBT persons and civil society organisations. The first LGBT Pride event was held in 2012 in spite of legal restrictions on peaceful assembly.
  • Laws regarding family and marriage are selectively enforced. While same-sex marriage is prohibited by law, some couples are able to hold unofficial wedding ceremonies without being fined.