HRC Global Fellow Phong Vuong Talks About LGBTQ+ Advocacy in Vietnam and His Experience With HRC

by Samuel Park

Phong Vuong is the LGBTI Rights Program Manager at the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE), a human rights advocacy organization based in Hanoi, Vietnam. As a Global Fellow, Phong worked alongside HRC staff in Washington, DC for the months of June and July.

What does your organization iSEE do?

iSEE is a Vietnamese non-governmental organization working for human rights with programming on LGBTQ+ issues, ethnic minorities and civil society. Established in 2007, iSEE was one of the first organizations in Vietnam to approach LGBTQ+ issues through a human rights lens. iSEE’s work includes carrying out research on Vietnam’s LGBTQ+ community, working with leaders across the country to build coalitions, educating the public on LGBTQ+ issues and advocating for a better legal framework for all. At iSEE, I manage the LGBTQ+ Rights Program, overseeing iSEE’s research, community empowerment and advocacy program. After successfully advocating for a change in the civil code in 2015 allowing transgender people to access legal gender recognition, we are now in the process of drafting a law on gender-affirmation to ensure legal gender recognition is implemented with the principle of self-determination and non-discrimination. We are also leading the conversation on depathologization of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics in Vietnam, as well as launching the “I Do” campaign for marriage equality in August.

Global Fellow Phong Vuong

What is the situation like for LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam?

LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam live their lives without the protection they should have from the legal framework, apart from a 2015 change in the civil code that allowed transgender people to access legal gender recognition. This, along with rigid social norms and gender binary, has resulted in increased discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in many facets of life, from family to school, in the workplace and public services. However, in recent years with the development of LGBTQ+ organizations across Vietnam, things have been looking up with greater visibility in the media, more spaces for communities to connect and enhanced efforts to address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

How did you become an LGBTQ+ advocate?

I started as a volunteer for iSEE during college before becoming an intern, and now manage the LGBTQ+ Rights Program at the organization. Back then, I had the tools and information to explore my identity from early on and was looking for a way to give back and do my part. Working as an LGBTQ+ advocate has given me a chance to learn and unlearn a lot about myself, what I thought I knew about LGBT+ advocacy and how to work alongside communities to uplift the voices of others.

What are some of the most exciting things you have learned during your fellowship with HRC?

During my time at HRC, I’ve had the chance to talk with people from many different departments. Each conversation has taught me a lot about the moving pieces that make up HRC’s work. I was in Washington, D.C when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and got to see the response of the community here in real time. Moreso, I learned a lot about HRC’s membership structure and how the organization’s members can be mobilized to conduct a wide range of programs. What was especially interesting to me were conversations about advocacy on the federal and state levels, and the many differences and similarities with our advocacy practices in Vietnam.

How will this fellowship impact your work as an advocate going forward?

One of the things I will for sure take with me going forward is the relationships and the resources that HRC has to offer. I’m excited to be a part of HRC’s network of Global Fellows and alumni all over the world, and can’t wait to get back to my work in Vietnam with more knowledge and skills that I can hopefully translate and apply effectively into the Vietnamese context.

Learn more about the HRC Foundation's Global Fellowship program.