LGBT rights and issues in AES countries

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Note: This article is about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in AES countries. Due to the widespread use of the term LGBT in the Anglosphere, this article has primarily been written using this term and its variants. However, the U.S.-originated term LGBT in this article should be regarded as provisional, as the countries discussed in the article do not themselves originate in U.S. culture and their own local conceptions and histories of gender and sexuality must be considered.

LGBT rights demonstrators in Vietnam thank the National Assembly following the approval of a bill for legal gender change in 2015.[1]

The nature and status of LGBT+ rights in current and former AES countries is a common subject of inquiry and debate throughout the political sphere, chiefly among LGBT communists looking for truth and answers regarding the actual rights enjoyed and issues faced by LGBT people under AES, among reactionary and anti-communist individuals and organizations seeking to utilize or misconstrue LGBT rights violations and policy failures under AES as a way to discredit and undermine AES countries, and by communists with anti-LGBT lines seeking precedent to uphold their anti-LGBT stances. Given these intersecting desires and aims, and in some cases, concerted reactionary and/or anti-communist propaganda campaigns, as well as the co-optation and weaponization of LGBT struggle by liberal-bourgeois and imperialist organizations for destabilization of AES countries through color revolution, the subject of LGBT rights in AES countries is often surrounded with difficulty and controversy.

Distinguishing between real problems faced by LGBT communities under AES, vs. anti-communist propaganda that seeks to use LGBT rights as a cover or vehicle for spreading misinformation and atrocity propaganda about AES countries, is a persistent issue in the discourse around this subject.

It should be noted that many issues faced by LGBT communities in AES countries are not issues found uniquely under socialism, but may be faced by LGBT individuals and communities under various modes of production, including in capitalist societies, and a dialectical materialist analysis must be maintained to understand the development of LGBT rights worldwide.

Background information, context, and terminology

Use and meaning of LGBT terminology

See also: LGBT+

LGBT is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. In use since the 1990s and originating in the United States, the initialism, as well as some of its common variants, functions as an umbrella term for sexuality and gender identity and has since come into international and cross-linguistic useage.

Despite the fact that the four-letter LGBT initialism does not explicitly encompass all individuals in smaller communities, the term is generally accepted to implicitly include those not specifically identified in the four-letter initialism.

Sukrita Lahiri, writing on the issue of terminology in international politics, says of the term "LGBT":

LGBT remains the most commonly used umbrella term in the global framework of gender and sexuality, even though it has its reductionist problems as it leaves out a host of identities like intersex, queer, and questioning.[2]

Other terminology for gender and sexual minorities

Another commonly used term is gender and sexual minorities, under the initials GSM. Finally, another common term is the word queer, which is often used as another umbrella term for LGBT people, or gender and sexual minorities. Many people self-identify with this term, but others regard this term to be offensive and prefer not to use it. Sukrita Lahiri says of the term "queer" that it "opens up innumerable possibilities" due to the term being "intrinsically one that challenges any form of determinism" however, it "only exists in the English language and therefore it is important to be critical of the use."[2] However, the term "queer" has been at least partially borrowed into some other languages.

These various terms are not universally agreed to or used by everyone that they attempt to encompass, and differences in usage may be found throughout various times in history, various communities, or in various contexts. In addition, local terminology in various countries and languages describing their own local sociocultural conceptions of gender and sexual minorities may be more commonly or more suitably used in a given location or context.

On the issue of translating topics regarding sexuality, Sukrita Lahiri writes:

The politics of sexuality is thoroughly altered in the process of translation [...] translating sexualities in international politics pushes one to confront notions of emancipation–colonisation, sovereignty–interference, among which global narratives are locally welcomed or repelled.[2]

Real problems faced by LGBT communities under AES vs. anti-communist misinformation

Real problems facing the LGBT communities of AES countries coexist alongside anti-communist propaganda designed to malign these countries or incite color revolution in them, making the topic difficult to analyze, as reliable sources may be hard to come by, not only due to LGBT rights being a minority issue that often receives limited coverage, but also to the rampant intentional spread of misinformation on the subject.

In attempting to navigate through ever-present misinformation regarding AES countries, the actual problems faced by LGBT communities in AES countries, currently or historically, may at times be hard to accurately assess. Additionally, many problems faced by LGBT communities in AES countries are not problems found uniquely under socialism, but may be faced by LGBT individuals and communities under various modes of production, including in capitalist societies.

Rainbow capitalism, rainbow imperialism, and pinkwashing

Rainbow capitalism (sometimes called pink capitalism) refers to the involvement of capitalism and consumerism in the LGBT movement and the co-optation and weaponization of the LGBT movement by capitalist interests. Rainbow imperialism (or pink imperialism) refers to the whitewashing (also called pinkwashing, see below) of imperialism through the promotion of so-called "LGBT-friendly" imperialist interests and organizations, such as promotion of LGBT inclusivity into the CIA.[3]

Another related term is "pinkwashing" (similar to terms like whitewashing and greenwashing). Pinkwashing is the strategy of promoting LGBT rights protections as evidence of liberalism and democracy, especially to distract from or legitimize violence against other countries or communities. Pinkwashing is a continuation of the political rationale used to justify colonialism on the basis of LGBT rights.

In 2011, Sarah Schulman used the term pinkwashing in a widely read The New York Times editorial citing Israel as an example of the use of the tactic of pinkwashing in public relations. Schulman states that after "generations of sacrifice and organization, gay people in parts of the world have won protection from discrimination and relationship recognition. But these changes have given rise to a nefarious phenomenon: the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel." Schulman says that an opportunistically selective depiction of usually Arab, South Asian, Turkish or African Muslim immigrants as "homophobic fanatics" is strategically contrasted against the "relevant and modern" marketing image of Israel, harnessing the gay community to reposition Israel's global image, summarizing the situation by saying that the "growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics 'pinkwashing': a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life."[4]

In Anti-Pinkwashing as Emerging Hope, Sukrita Lahiri writes of the relationship between pinkwashing and imperial violence:

Historically speaking, settler colonialism has a long history of articulating its violence through the protection of certain figures such as women and children (Moghadam, 1994), and now homosexuals. Pinkwashing is just one more justification for imperial violence within this long tradition which works in part by tapping into the discursive and structural circuits produced by the West against the danger of “Islamic extremism.” In persistence of this imperial tradition, Gayatri Spivak’s (2010) well-known precept “white men saving brown women from brown men” (p. 57) gets modified with the trope of white homosexuals saving brown homosexuals from brown heterosexuals (Morris, 2010). Further, the neoliberal economic structure comfortably stretches itself to induce a compartmentalised sort of marketing of various ethnic and minoritised groups (Fraser, 2013). Thus it normalises the production of, for example, a gay and lesbian tourism industry built on the distinction between “gay-friendly” and homophobic destinations. The human rights groups voicing homosexual concerns continue to proliferate Western constructs of identity that privilege identity politics, “coming out”, increased visibility, and legislative measures as the dominant scales of social inclusion and progress.[2]

Destabilization of AES countries via imperialist-backed NGOs

Closely related to the issues of rainbow imperialism and rainbow capitalism is the practice of capitalist and imperialist powers of using a guise of "LGBT rights" to engage in foreign meddling or to manufacture atrocity propaganda to undermine the sovereignty of AES or anti-imperialist countries.

The existence of such developments and co-optations in liberal LGBT movements and capitalist and imperialist societies can lead to or inflame preexisting anti-LGBT sentiment in countries targeted by these tactics, or cause people to see LGBT movements as unwelcome foreign or bourgeois elements. This in turn can lead to persecution or suspicion of the local LGBT community. Local, grassroots, genuine proletarian LGBT movements and communities may exist alongside opportunistic meddling by imperialists and become subject to co-optation, leading to confusion and tensions around the issue.

A group called NonLa Collective, a "digital front of Vietnamese communists" spoke on this issue by saying:

Ultimately, it’s true that our society has many problems when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. It’s also true that the Vietnamese revolutionary government can and should do more, and more quickly, to address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ citizens. But, speaking as LGBTQ+ Vietnamese ourselves, we do not feel as if we need to be “rescued” by foreign-imperialist organizations like USAID, nor do we see how dismantling our revolutionary government would help our LGBTQ+ movement in any way. Vietnam has our own vibrant, strong, and growing LGBTQ+ liberation movement. In Ho Chi Minh City alone, in 2019, thousands of people showed up to the most recent pride event before COVID-19 broke out, and activism continues even through the pandemic. The government does not restrict or limit our voices in any way, on the contrary, LGBTQ+ stories are shared positively on state media [...] Again, we ask, how would immediately dismantling our revolutionary government help LGBTQ+ people in any way?[5]

A criticism of such tactics is put forth by Yi Zhi in a Global Times article titled "Politicizing LGBTQI issues in China could backfire on West":

The truth is, those [Western] media outlets know very well what the issue is all about. They do not really care about the group, but rather treat it as a tool to infiltrate China, pushing their values like the so-called human rights in China. Some foreign political forces have been playing tricks over issues like feminism, AIDS, animal protection, and so on. LGBTQI has become their latest contrivance.  

Controversies over the above-mentioned topics do exist and there is room for improvement in China. But what the foreign forces have been doing is cultivating their own version of the so-called civil society in China.

[...] As long as the foreign forces which support LGBTQI groups in China respect China's sovereignty and the rule of law, China will surely have their back. There will be no problem as long as the foreign forces which support LGBTQI groups in China respect China's sovereignty and the rule of law. Unfortunately, those foreign forces often have ulterior motives. Imagine if the LGBTQI groups in the West are supported by other forces which aim at overthrowing the capitalist system, will the countries turn a blind eye to them? [...] [The West] should be careful not to habitually politicize social issues, cozying up to certain groups too much and intensifying contradictions. Otherwise, they will only cause greater social injustice, triggering fierce counterattacks by right-wing populists.[6]

According to an article entitled "West-backed color revolution a ‘top threat’ to China’s national, political security" appearing in People's Daily, "Experts on international intelligence and security said under the intensifying China-US competition, foreign hostile forces have increased efforts to target the political security of China rather than merely conducting regular espionage activities. [...] Apart from targeting Xinjiang and Hong Kong which are traditional geopolitical hotspots, foreign hostile forces are also keen to use issues like LGBT, feminism and environmentalism which are easy to stir heated discussions on social media via disinformation and rumors to create problems by instigating conflicts between specific groups in China" and continues by saying, "Fortunately, this kind of practice is unable to cause a significant impact or escalate into a massive color revolution, since with the modernization and development of China, the majority of Chinese netizens are able to discuss these issues with a mature and reasonable attitude, and legal civil organizations on LGBT or environment protection will distance themselves from hostile foreign intervention."[7] In the text Understanding Korea No. 9: Human Rights, a book discussing The DPRK's views on human rights, the following commentary is provided on the U.S. and Western use of "human rights" as a tool for suppression of DPRK and other countries:

At present, in many cases the US and the Western countries abuse the international human rights instruments as a means to justify their suppression of the rights of their people, and their invasion, intervention and human rights violations against other countries and nations. [...] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been abused as a tool for imposing political pressure and interfering in the internal affairs of the progressive and developing countries by the US and other Western countries after the Cold War, which attempted to pick a quarrel with the human rights situations in these countries and impose their own “human rights standards” on them.[8]

The work further clarifies:

The US and its followers conduct the anti-DPRK human rights campaign with an intention to mislead the public opinion and raise the non-existent “human rights issue” in the DPRK as an international issue, thus defaming the prestige of the DPRK in the international arena and toppling its socialist system under the veil of “defending human rights.” As it has learned that military threats are helpless in bringing down the socialist system of the DPRK, the US is trying to internationalize the anti-DPRK human rights campaign by instigating its followers. The smear campaign conducted by the US is, in nature, an acme of high-handedness and arbitrariness aimed at ignoring the political mode and social system established in the DPRK and changing them at any cost. It is also a brigandish act of destroying the very foundation of international human rights mechanisms.[8]

In the work, the hostile U.S. policy of using human rights as a destabilization tool is described as a major obstacle to human rights in DPRK:

The major obstacles to the protection and promotion of human rights in the DPRK are the hostile policy pursued by the United States and other Western countries against the DPRK and their “human rights” racket. In other words, they are their moves to stamp out the country politically, blackmail it militarily and isolate and stifle it economically. [...] Despite the continued moves of the US and its followers to isolate and stifle the DPRK, the government advances policies for the protection and promotion of human rights of the people and is making every effort to bring them into effect. Thanks to the steadfast people-oriented policies advanced by the government and its continued efforts to perfect the human rights instruments, human rights will be guaranteed on a higher plane in the DPRK.[8]

Such articles as those cited above illustrate one of the main causes of rejection or suspicion of certain elements of Western-influenced or Western-led LGBT rights movements in AES countries.

Anti-LGBT sentiments among communists

Along with pro-LGBT positions among communists, anti-LGBT positions among communists and communist organizations are a reality. In past and present AES, both pro- and anti-LGBT positions and policies can be found. Anti-LGBT positions among communists often stem from a perceived association of LGBT movements with "bourgeois decadence" or "degeneracy", or with extreme individualism. Other anti-LGBT positions among communists may be traced to their opposition to the usage of "rainbow imperialism" to undermine and attack AES countries and communist movements, or infiltrate them with liberal-bourgeois LGBT rights organizations.

The 1975 Marxist-Leninist work, "Toward A Scientific Analysis of the Gay Question" composed by the Los Angeles Research Group,[9] a group of gay communist women, seeks to provide dialectical materialist explanations and criticisms of a variety of anti-LGBT positions and lines put forth by U.S. communist organizations of the time. As the term "LGBT" itself originates in the U.S., and U.S. imperialists use of "rainbow capitalism" and "rainbow imperialism" as tools against AES countries are among the main reasons for anti-LGBT sentiments among some communists, an understanding of the contradictions within the U.S. LGBT movement is relevant to understanding international LGBT struggle.

Regarding the origin of bourgeois, opportunist, and reformist currents arising as contradictions in the U.S. LGBT movement, the Los Angeles Research Group writes:

The gay movement operated in the same context as [...] other progressive struggles. Chief among the contradictions within the gay movement, as in other groups, was the predominance of petty-bourgeois elements. The communist forces in the gay movement were also small in number and still primitive, and got very little support for their work from other communists. Many gay communists saw anti-war work and the working class movement as more important; gay women communists saw the women’s movement as a higher priority than the gay movement. As a practical result, the gay movement was abandoned by communists to the leadership of the petty-bourgeoisie to where it is now dominated, on the one hand, by a few opportunists and reformists, [...] who are bought off by government and foundation grants. [...]  The fact that anti-gay communists take the most conspicuous gay people for the whole points again to their one-sided, superficial and subjective approach.[9]

Among the conclusions of the Los Angeles Group is the following assertion: "The contradiction between homosexuals and heterosexuals is non-antagonistic; it can be worked out through principled struggle. Communists, gays and heterosexuals alike, must unite with the progressive aspects raised by the gay movement and struggle against those bourgeois elements which exist." The work continues:

Just as men, women, heterosexuals, gays and minorities cross all class lines, any organization of these groups will reflect one or another class line at any given historical period depending on the strength and development of the different class forces. Gays are not inherently revolutionary (as some gay groups would say), nor inherently reactionary (as some “communist” groups would say). The class nature of gay liberation will change only when it is given revolutionary working class leadership. Until then, like all other groups, bourgeois ideology will fill the political vacuum. Even the working class, left to itself, can only develop trade union consciousness, which in the last analysis is bourgeois. To expect the gay movement to be any different when left without proletarian leadership is pure idealism. Gay people, particularly working class gays, are perfectly capable of enthusiastically grasping the science of Marxism Leninism and of being disciplined revolutionary fighters. To make enemies of potential allies is to abandon the working class and its interests.[9]

Existence of non-heterosexual and gender-variant identities and practices in societies worldwide

It must be remembered that the LGBT movement that arose in the modern West is only one manifestation of a worldwide phenomenon of non-heterosexual and gender-variant identities and practices throughout history. As the majority of current and former AES countries exist outside of the West, or only on its periphery, an understanding of the local histories and conceptions of each country's own gender and sexual minorities must be investigated for a dialectical materialist understanding of their situations to be formed. As all of the AES countries have also existed in a time where the Western LGBT movement was already forming and developing, an understanding of that movement and its contradictions in conjunction with local movements and traditions would be necessary to form a nuanced understanding of the nature of gender and sexual minority cultures, histories, rights, and issues unique to each country.

On the topic of pre-modern transgender identities and spiritual traditions in Asia and the Pacific and their relationship to contemporary LGBT identities, Pauline Park writes:

There is a very wide misconception that ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender’ (LGBT) constitutes a purely modern phenomenon created by late nineteenth and early twentieth century sexologists and activists. In fact, every pre-modern Asian and Pacific Islander society had what could be termed ‘proto-transgenderal’ and homoerotic traditions which anticipate these contemporary LGBT identities, even if there are significant differences between the pre-modern and the contemporary identity formations. [...] In examining the entire history of homoerotic and proto-transgenderal traditions in pre-modern Asian and Pacific Islander societies, we must not make the mistake of romanticizing such traditions or failing to recognize the significant differences between ‘them’ and ‘us’ — meaning contemporary queer LGBT/queer APIs [Asian and Pacific Islanders], especially those of us in the diaspora. Those ancient traditions are embedded in societies which were not characterized by equality of age, gender or class relations, and many of the forms that homoeroticism and transgenderal identity took would offend our egalitarian sensibilities.[10]

Park continues by saying that the examination of such pre-modern "proto-transgenderal" and homoerotic figures and images can have implications for political action "by challenging and disarming the false discourse of reactionary elements in the Asia/Pacific region today and in API immigrant communities that attempt to label LGBT identities as false and foreign, the fabrication of white, Western and even specifically American influence."[10]

A map depicting colonial and imperial spheres of influence in Asia from 1850-1914.[11]

Influence of colonialism, religion, and local tradition in views and practices of gender and sexuality

In addition to local and indigenous views and practices that may be found in various societies in the world, colonialism also has left a cultural impact on many societies in regard to their views on gender and sexuality. For example, in some regions, concepts of gender or sexuality may have been more or less broad, fluid, or permissive than what was introduced or imposed on those societies through colonialism. Colonialism may also impose new religious doctrines on populations, or introduce concepts that become blended with traditional, local concepts.

Western colonialism

In particular, the current AES countries have been impacted in varying ways by Western colonialism, which typically brought Christian religious values and imposed European laws, social norms, and standards onto the issues of gender and sexuality in the countries they colonized. Depending on a variety of factors, such as the pre-existing local attitudes about gender and sexuality in a given location, the particular Western power(s) that held the most colonial influence in a region, the time period of the colonization, etc., the resulting effect on the social fabric of each society will have its own characteristics that must be uniquely considered for a proper dialectical materialist analysis.

In the AES Republic of Cuba, there is a majority Christian population, primarily Catholic. Cuba also has a significant population practicing Santería, an African diasporic religion that arose through a process of syncretism between the traditional Yoruba religion of West Africa, the Roman Catholic form of Christianity, and Spiritism. The religious situation of Cuba is illustrative of the complex overlapping cultural currents that exist in colonized nations, such as the displacement, destruction, or transformation of indigenous culture, the imposition of the colonizer's culture, and the effects of the slave trade. The complexity of this historical and cultural situation must be considered when analyzing the history and modern status of LGBT population in Cuba.

East Asian cultural sphere

The East Asian cultural sphere, also known as the Sinosphere, encompasses multiple countries in East and Southeast Asia that were historically influenced by Chinese culture. The current AES countries who have historically been part of this cultural sphere of influence are the People's Republic of China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Imperial China was a regional power and exerted influence on tributary states and neighboring states, among which were Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. These interactions brought ideological and cultural influences rooted in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In the 21st century, ideological and cultural influences of Confucianism and Buddhism remain in various forms in these countries.

An ILGA Asia report from 2021 states that Confucian culture "strongly supports heterosexual and traditional family models of straight men and women."[12] According to a study on the influence of Confucianism on modern (hetero-)sexual relationships among youths in China and Vietnam, "Traditional Confucian culture, the common base of social culture in the mainland of China, Taiwan and Vietnam, is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought with regard to individual’s relationships with others and appropriate conduct." The study found that "different aspects of Confucian culture eroded unevenly and might have different association with adolescent and youth's sexual behaviors in Hanoi, Shanghai, and Taipei undergoing rapid socio-economic change."[13]

According to City Pass Guide, sexual orientation and gender identity throughout Asia "is a complex terrain from which cultural values, family intradependence, religion, and the tumultuous legacy of colonialism grow and intertwine. As a result, LGBTQ rights vary widely in this part of the world."[14]

LGBT rights and issues by AES country

Current AES countries

People's Republic of China

Xin Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBTQ Centre, characterizes the status of LGBT rights in China is quoted in a 2021 article as saying that "China’s situation isn’t the worst in Asia, but it still has room for improvement."[15]

According to a 2018 CGTN article,[16] "Homosexuality in China has a complex history. Unlike homosexuality in the West where religious attitudes prevailed, homosexuality has long existed in Chinese history and culture and there have been art and literary works about it. Nonetheless, disdain and discrimination have often been the rule, understanding and compassion the exception."

The article quotes Professor Li Yinhe of the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as saying:

I think the biggest challenge for homosexuals is not about the ban of their activities. Governments don’t do such things any more. Their biggest problem is the deep-rooted culture of oppression in China that over-emphasizes so-called 'family values.' We refer to the phenomena as being family-oriented whereas western countries are more individual-oriented. This means in China, you should always prioritize your family value in life. When there are conflicts between family values and personal joy, personal joy should also give way.[16]

Role of NGOs in destabilization efforts in China

According to an article entitled "West-backed color revolution a ‘top threat’ to China’s national, political security" appearing in People's Daily, "Experts on international intelligence and security said under the intensifying China-US competition, foreign hostile forces have increased efforts to target the political security of China rather than merely conducting regular espionage activities. [...] Apart from targeting Xinjiang and Hong Kong which are traditional geopolitical hotspots, foreign hostile forces are also keen to use issues like LGBT, feminism and environmentalism which are easy to stir heated discussions on social media via disinformation and rumors to create problems by instigating conflicts between specific groups in China" and continues by saying, "Fortunately, this kind of practice is unable to cause a significant impact or escalate into a massive color revolution, since with the modernization and development of China, the majority of Chinese netizens are able to discuss these issues with a mature and reasonable attitude, and legal civil organizations on LGBT or environment protection will distance themselves from hostile foreign intervention."[7]

Legal status of LGBT issues

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and officially removed it from the white book of mental disorders, the Chinese Mental Disorder Classification and Diagnosis Standard (CCMD-3) published by China’s Ministry of Health in 2001.[17]

Same-sex relationships are legal in China, although same-sex marriage and adoption are not currently legal. Although same-sex marriage is not legal, Chinese LGBT couples have found other ways to gain some legal protection. For example, same-sex couple married overseas can be named as each other’s “legal guardians”, a status considered fairly similar to a civil union.[15]

Transgender individuals are legally allowed to receive healthcare and may legally change their gender marker after receiving sexual reassignment surgery. In recent years, transgender treatment facilities have become more available in China, including the opening of a clinic for the treatment of transgender minors in 2021, where both psychological help and hormone treatment will be available.[18]

Findings of a BMC Public Health survey about public attitudes toward LGBT people in China, conducted in 2015.[19]
Attitudes toward LGBT community

According to a 2020 report published in BMC Public Health, "Chinese people’s view of the LGBT community is strongly impacted by the distinctive Chinese cultural context. It is likely that LGBT individuals’ experiences pronounced negative feelings, psychological distress and perceive severe discrimination within the traditional Chinese cultural context" and "Although there have been many public policies developed for improving the rights of stigmatized and marginalized LGBT individuals, they still face a great deal of discrimination in various contexts."[19]

From the report's data, collected in 2015, the authors conclude that "a higher level of economic development in provinces was associated with a decrease in discrimination, and we identified that every 100 thousand RMB increase in per capita GDP lead to a 6.4% decrease in discriminatory events perpetrated by heterosexuals." Additionally, "Chinese LGBT groups consistently experience discrimination in various aspects of their daily lives. The prevalence of this discrimination is associated with the economic development of the province in which it occurs."[19]

According to the BMC report:

We mapped perceived discrimination against LGBT persons separately for each of the seven environments. As shown in Fig. 1c, of the seven settings, the highest level of self-perceived discrimination was reported for social services (Mean = 57.1, SD = 5.7), and discrimination was higher in the north of China. LGBT participants also reported relatively higher levels of self-perceived discrimination in religious settings, with a mean score of 53.5, with a noticeably high incidence among lesbians living in Hainan (Mean = 70.6) and Xinjiang (Mean = 69.2), and transgender persons living in Gansu (Mean = 68.1). Self-perceived discrimination was generally lower in medical service settings (mean = 36.7, SD =3.8), with the exception of transgender participants, who reported an elevated rate (mean = 39.6, SD = 2.7). In school settings, LGBT participants reported a moderate to high level of discriminatory behaviors by peers or teachers (mean = 52.9, SD =3.9), with a relatively lower level of discrimination found among the lesbian group (mean = 48.9, SD =3.1). LGBT participants reported less attention and biased reporting on their community by Chinese media (mean = 56.3, SD =2.7). In family (mean = 47.5, SD =2.3) and workplace settings (mean = 48.4, SD =3.1), a moderate rate of perceived discrimination was reported by LGBT participants.[19]

The report also states that "In terms of heterosexuals’ acceptance towards the LGBT community, heterosexual participants reported a high level of acceptance of social relationships with LGBT individuals, such as having LGBT friends or colleagues. However, heterosexual participants reported that it was hard to accept their own children identifying as LGBT. [...] For member of the Chinese LGBT community, the greatest source of pressure to conform to societal norms of sexuality and identity comes from family members—particularly parents."[19]

Some of the findings of the 2017 Survey Report on the Survival of the Transgender Community in China, published by the Beijing LGBT Center and the Department of Sociology at Peking University, regarding perceived levels of "friendliness" towards trans individuals in different work environments.[20]
Status of transgender social issues

According to the 2017 Survey Report on the Survival of the Transgender Community in China, published by the Beijing LGBT Center and the Department of Sociology at Peking University,[20] China's policy and attitude towards transgender people is "improving", citing regulation about transgender SRS in China becoming more friendly in 2017. Among the report's recommendations were to eliminate SRS as a prerequisite for change of gender markers and names on identity documents, a recommendation to add a “third gender” category on official identity documents, to strengthen provisions in existing legislation to prohibit discrimination against transgender people, and to better respect and protect the gender identity and expression of transgender people, de-pathologize transgender people in the mental health system, to advocate for the bodily autonomy of transgender people within the medical system, and include transgender-specific topics in mandatory sex education curricula.

However, although transgender issues in China can be said to be improving, the report also found there are current significant challenges faced by the community, such as unreliable access to healthcare, widespread depression, rejection from family, and disadvantages in employment, issues which are presented in further detail in the report. For example, the report found that most responds thought that the requirements for SRS candidates in various regulations were "unreasonable." Additionally, transgender women reported the highest levels of discomfort in public spaces, with public restrooms causing the highest anxiety among respondents.

Social rejection was included in the study:

Nearly 90% of natal families cannot fully accept their transgender children. Of the 835 respondents that reported that they had disclosed their gender identity to their parents or guardians, four times as many respondents said that they had been totally rejected by their parents or guardians (38.9%) than those who said they had been totally accepted (10.9%). Of these, those most likely to experience rejection were transgender women. Nearly half (48.5%)of who totally being rejected by their parents or guardians were transgender women.[20]

Status of transgender healthcare

According to Dr. Pan Bolin of the Department of Transformative Surgery at Peking University Third Hospital, close to 80% of the transgender community require hormone treatment.[21]

According to the 2017 Survey Report on the Survival of the Transgender Community in China, published by the Beijing LGBT Center and the Department of Sociology at Peking University, although 71.2% of respondents who had had SRS did so in a domestic hospital, approximately one in five of these respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination, invasion of privacy, medical accident, or complications while a patient at a domestic hospital.

Regarding hormone therapy, the report states:

Transgender people who reported using or having used hormone therapy in the past reported that the main channel through which they obtained hormone therapy drugs had been through “online pharmacies” (66%) or “obtained from friends” (51%). The most commonly reported method of using the drugs was “independently reading the directions for use or looking for information” (72%) and “consulting the opinions of friends” (66%).

The report is intended "to provide government departments, international groups, and non-profit and for-profit organizations with a statistical foundation for an up-to-date understanding of China’s transgender population."[20]

In 2017, the Comprehensive Gender Dysphoria Clinic was opened.[21]

In 2021, The Children’s Hospital of Fudan University opened a clinic serving transgender children and teenagers in Shanghai.[22] According to Xin Ying, director of the Beijing LGBT Center, the hospital's move was in line with World Health Organization’s 2019 guidelines on gender-identity related health.[18] According to an article by Shine, "Professionals will conduct evaluations, diagnoses, psychological treatments and medication" to reduce the negative emotions of transgender minors and help improve their academic performances and family relationships, noting that hospital officials "said the clinic will serve as a bridge to connect transgender children with their families, doctors and society."[22]

According to a Global Times article about the clinic, Luo Feihong, director of the endocrine and genetic metabolic department of the Children's Hospital explained that the professional assessment, diagnosis, psychological treatment and necessary medicine intervention by doctors of multidisciplinary professions are of great help to reduce the negative emotions of transgender children and adolescents. Treatment improves their academic performance, their family relations, and builds a harmonious society.[23]

The Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia is held every May in Havana, as part of the awareness campaign organized by CENESEX. The sign reads, "I am part of the Revolution, I too am Fidel."[24]

Republic of Cuba

In 1979, laws criminalizing gays were eliminated in Cuba. In 1986 the National Commission on Sex Education introduced a program on homosexuality and bisexuality as healthy and positive. Prominent leaders like Cuban president Fidel Castro and Cuban Federation of Women president Vilma Espín began to speak out against anti-gay attitudes.[25] Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education(CENESEX), founded in 1988, "promotes sex education based on a socialist, emancipatory paradigm, recognizing the right to sexuality as inalienable" and is attached to the Ministry of Public Health.[24] In 1997 all anti-gay references in Cuban laws were eliminated.[25] The Cuban Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia has taken place annually since 2007.[24]

Since 2008, gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy have been available free of charge under Cuba’s national healthcare system. In regard to HIV-related issues, condoms are distributed, and sex education and access to antiretroviral drugs have increased.[26]

Historically, discriminatory laws existed for the LGBT community in Cuba, although modern efforts have been made to raise awareness and promote LGBT rights. It should be noted that bourgeois media has repeatedly taken advantage of the real, historical persecution of Cuba's LGBT community as an opportunity for inciting public opinion against Cuba and manufacturing consent for Cuba's destabilization. Meanwhile, the LGBT legal and social situation in Cuba continues to develop through the efforts of the Cuban people themselves, with LGBT rights and protections gradually expanding and being debated as education on the subject is promoted by activists and parts of the government in the context of Cuba's own history and culture.

Users of cubadebate.cu hold a comment section discussion about Cuba's new Family Code (Código de las Familias), voicing their opinions for and against aspects of the change in law which includes the subject of same-sex marriage and parental rights.[27]
2022 Family Code

According to the publication Gay Community News, Cuba has announced that it is to hold a landmark ‘Family Code’ referendum which will include same-sex marriage and parental rights in 2022. The article notes:

The consultations showed that approximately 62% of Cuban citizens are in favour of updating the constitution to provide for more inclusive legislation.

Tweeting the news of the assembly’s vote in favour of holding the referendum, Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of Cuba said “The deputies have just approved the #CódigoDeLasFamilias.”

Showing his support for a yes vote he continued “They do well to call it ‘Code of affections’ because it has developed something really new: affection as a legal value.”[28]

The article states that, as well as improving the lives of same-sex couples and their families, the proposed changes to the legislation "would also see greater protections being provided for children as well as guaranteeing improved rights for women" and mentions that if the referendum passes, Cuba would become the eighth country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage.[28]

LGBT rights education efforts and CENESEX

In regard to Cuba's cultural context as a formerly colonized society with a patriarchal and homophobic influence, a 2020 article on the English version of the CubaDebate website addresses Cuba's past persecution of the LGBT community and its modern efforts to promote education and acceptance about LGBT rights, placing this struggle in the context of global politics:

Cuban culture has a strong patriarchal Hispanic-African heritage, with a long homophobic tradition, a model of domination imposed by the Spanish colonial system and its official religion, along with a worldwide scientific approach that stigmatized homosexuality.

When the Revolution triumphed, medical, psychological, social and legal sciences around the world took positions against homosexuality, and considered it an example of illness, insanity, moral decadence and deviation from social norms.

Unfortunately, the permanence of institutionalized homophobia in the first decades of the Revolution has not been analyzed in all its complexity. This situation is exploited by those who only see it as an opportunity to profit from the well-funded market of attacks on Cuba. Given this reality, it is essential that our institutions critically analyze practices that are inconsistent with the humanist spirit of the revolutionary process.[29]

The article goes on to say that the initiative to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, beginning May 17, 2007, has had "significant impact on the mobilization of the Cuban population’s social conscience" and furthermore, since 2008, "we have dedicated the entire month of May to developing educational and communication activities that promote respect for free sexual orientation and gender identities, as an exercise in justice and social equity, under the name of Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia." According to the article, these days are coordinated by CENESEX, through the Ministry of Public Health (Minsap), along with other state institutions, the government, and the support of the Party at all levels. Campaigns have been focused on the family, school, work and, more recently, recognition of all rights for all people, without discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.[29] Commenting on the state of the LGBT education campaign and legal status, the article says:

In total harmony with these decisions, since 2019, our Constitution textually recognizes sexual and reproductive rights, prohibits discrimination against persons with non-homonormative sexualities, protects family diversity and clearly regulates marriage as a legal institution accessible to all persons without discrimination of any kind. Of course, we still have a long way to go. That is why we educate for love and respectful coexistence, not for the perpetuation of relationships of domination or violence. We educate in the humanist and democratic principles that are inspired by the emancipatory paradigm of socialism, in freedom as a complex individual and collective responsibility. We will continue working until all justice is achieved.[29]

Vázquez Seijido, assistant director of CENESEX, was quoted in a Granma International in a 2018 article as saying:

Our institution is very diverse in terms of the activities undertaken. On the one hand, it dedicates important efforts to scientific research in order to obtain the grounds that support undergraduate and postgraduate training processes. We have diploma and masters programs, and we are working on a PhD program. We also teach several short and training courses, which we offer nationally and internationally. We also undertake various actions at the community level, visualized in the four major events held throughout the year, with a vast social and media impact.[24]

According to Mariela Castro Espín, Director of the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX), on the topic of homophobia in the cultural and historical context of Cuba and the LGBT education efforts in a 2014 interview:

This is a problem the world over. We have inherited a Spanish culture which is strongly patriarchal, homophobic, and highly discriminative. Such a long period of prejudices cannot be eliminated immediately. But, are we going to continue reproducing the oppressive, exploitative past, the past which invents prejudices in order to dominate persons? This is a society in search of socialism; we are fighting to articulate revolutionary ideas which will guarantee a society where the genuine emancipation of human beings is attained. For that reason, we must go on working, with the support of the media, in different actions which invite reflection. When we talk about an educative strategy, we are talking about education with a bio-ethical viewpoint, which invites dialogue and reflection. We do not want to impose our viewpoints. [...] The most important thing we have achieved is dialogue. The Cuban population is discussing these issues. We receive many letters of thanks, telephone calls, messages on our webpage [...] Many people approach us and tell us very gratifying things, like “now I’m a better person,” “thanks to your work I no longer discriminate against my children,” or “I no longer feel afraid of homosexuality.”[30]

Liberation News provides a brief overview of Cuba's legal history regarding LGBT matters, saying that in the early years of the revolution, the attitudes and policies in Cuba were similar to the prevailing ideas elsewhere in the world, and that as the revolution developed, "the impact of the international LGBT struggle began to be felt" and was followed by a removal of anti-LGBT laws in 1979, and a growing public awareness and legal protections for the LGBT community.[25]

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Information about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is hampered by a lack of reliable information and a preponderance of deliberate disinformation. A commonly used source of information about DPRK is the testimony of defectors, but the defectors are not necessarily reliable sources for several reasons, such as cash incentives that encourage more sensational testimonies, and the mediation of testimonies through U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies. In an article of the South Korean publication Hankyoreh, an analysis is made of the media situation surrounding DPRK: "Time and time again, conservative outlets and foreign media circulate and reproduce rumors based on questionable sources [...] Notably, retractions and apologies are rarely ever provided when the reports are shown to be false."[31] It is important to keep in mind this situation when seeking information about DPRK. Due to the lack of information and the questionability of information about DPRK, an analysis of LGBT rights in the country will be generally permeated with these problems.

LGBT legal situation

The Constitution of North Korea does not explicitly address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Homosexuality and transgender issues are not formally addressed in the penal code of DPRK.

Dermot Hudson, who is associated with the Korean Friendship Association, stated in an interview with Vice that "The DPRK has not legalized gay marriage, but it does not have laws prohibiting homosexuality. In the past, DPRK publications have made critical remarks about homosexuality, but it is not seen as a big priority either way."[32]

According to the website of Young Pioneer Tours, a tour company that operates in DPRK, "homosexuality is not against the law in North Korea, and people from the LGBT community are more than welcome to travel here – in fact, openly gay tour guides have frequently led tours here without issue. That being said, North Korea is a sexually conservative country, and this applies to sexuality anywhere on the spectrum," adding that "Overt shows of affection by anyone of any sexual orientation tend to be frowned upon" in DPRK.[33]

Regarding DPRK's views on human rights in general, the Understanding Korea by Kim Ji Ho states:

The DPRK government will make constant efforts to perfect the system of human rights laws to give fuller play to the advantages of the people-centred socialism of the Korean style, on the basis of the experience and lessons gained in establishing human rights mechanisms so far. It will develop the system of socialist human rights laws by stipulating afresh the omitted parts of the system, amending and supplementing the existing ones and formulating new rights in the direction of raising the effectiveness of human rights legislation to the maximum and fully reflecting the demands of norms of international human rights laws. It will fully reflect the people’s demands and interests in working out human rights laws and encourage them to actively participate in this undertaking. Officials in the legislation of human rights laws will be encouraged to have consultation with the masses, give an ear to their voice and accept their good opinions. The system of petition will be used more effectively so that everyone can present his or her opinion on the work of formulating new human rights laws or amending and supplementing the existing ones. [8]

Regarding prospects for the rights of "special groups", Understanding Korea states: "Regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of special groups, including children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities, as an important task, the DPRK government is making strenuous efforts for its implementation." Kim Ji Ho also calls attention to the aggressive U.S. and Western policies towards DPRK that aim to stifle and destabilize the country, which causes a great negative impact on the Korean people's ability to enjoy their rights:

The economic sanctions and blockade the US, in collusion with its vassal states, has imposed on the DPRK have been unprecedented in their viciousness and tenacity. These moves are aimed, in essence, at isolating and stifling the country and destabilizing it so as to overthrow its system. The moves the US resorts to by enlisting even its vassal states are a crime against human rights and humanity, which check the sovereign state’s right to development and exert a great negative impact on its people’s enjoying of their rights, a crime as serious as wartime genocide.[8]

Kim states that DPRK places a focus on economic development as a way of promoting human rights, contrasting it with U.S. and western efforts to stifle and destabilize DPRK by raising concern about "human rights" in DPRK, and states that DPRK "attaches importance to the development of the sectors that are directly linked to improving the people’s living standards, provides the working people with wonderful conditions for labour and material life, and steadily improves the people’s living standards through the expansion of the people-oriented policies of the ruling party and the government." Kim adds that "Despite the continued moves of the US and its followers to isolate and stifle the DPRK, the government advances policies for the protection and promotion of human rights of the people and is making every effort to bring them into effect."[8]

LGBT social situation

According to various defector testimonies and anecdotal stories of tourists to DPRK, the Western conceptualization of LGBT identities is not widespread in DPRK.[34][35][36] Although the Western framework of LGBT identity is not widespread in DPRK, defectors who have later encountered the Western conceptualization of LGBT identities have later described themselves or others as being gay, lesbians, or bisexuals, and described gender non-conforming people, as well as describing situational homosexuality in the military.[35][36] An article by NK News states that "Korean culture is traditionally conservative and any displays of open sexuality are frowned upon" and suggests that North Korean attitudes toward homosexuality can be compared to those of South Korea in the recent past. Hazel Smith, described as a "North Korea watcher" at the Wilson Institute, was reported in the NK News article as saying that homosexuality as it is conceived of in the West does not exist conceptually in DPRK.[34]

Jang Yeong-jin (장영진), an openly gay North Korean defector, wrote a semi-autobiographical book titled A Mark of Red Honor (Korean title: 붉은 넥타이) about his experience of defecting due to his unfulfilling relationship with his wife, and his later discovery of and identification with the gay identity after his defection.[37] In an interview, he describes how in DPRK he never encountered the concept of homosexuality and sought out doctors to find out why we was not attracted to his wife, but found no conclusive reasons. He also states that homosexual behaviors are common in the military, but that this is more due to the long celibacy policy of the military service, saying "there is almost no awareness of homosexuality in the North" and that "it is very common for men to hug and kiss each other in the military". He adds that "there is no concept of homosexuality, or any problem with it."[35]

According to The Korean Friendship Association, quoted in NK News:

The Korean Friendship Association, the leading international organization promoting North Korea, insists that even more liberal treatment takes place, claiming that “the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect…Homosexuals in the DPRK have never been subject to repression, as in many capitalist regimes around the world.”[34]

The NK News article comments that "North Korean propaganda has referred to homosexuality as something foreign and un-Korean, a product of western imperialism and vice. [...] A cursory look through KCNA archives brings up little mention of homosexuality in the DPRK; any mentions of it are devoted to criticizing either the United States or Japanese imperialism. Homosexuality is often portrayed as a form of imperialist humiliation –in the same category as the sexual enslavement of Korean women during the Japanese occupation."[34] The article also talks about the experiences of gay tourists in DPRK:

Simon Cockerell, who runs North Korea travel service Koryo Tours, says he frequently takes gay western tourists to North Korea, and the responses are often surprising.

“When (North Koreans) meet gay tourists (of which there are many) they often think it is quite funny,” he said, “a little bit of a playground attitude, basically.”

“I wouldn’t say I have seen much in the way of homophobia from any North Koreans at all,” Cockerell said. “After all, you may hate that which you don’t understand, but its hard to be anti-something that you have no real conception of at all.”

[...] A gay tourist who has visited the DPRK several times who chose to remain anonymous, told NK News that during his last visit he had been escorted around the country by two very different tour guides. One, a girl from an elite Pyongyang family, exhibited an awareness of homosexuality and the other, a male who had never left the country, seemed unaware of it even as an idea.

When the tour concluded the source noted that: “the female guide even said something approving of the couple being together, and how nice it was that they had decided to be ‘best friends’ for life”. Not a remarkably progressive statement, certainly, but in a country where homosexuality seems to barely be recognized, this tour guide’s acceptance of a gay couple is certainly noticeable.[34]

Young Pioneer Tours answers questions on their website about LGBT travelers to DPRK, saying that, "anything outside heteronormativity" is not something to which people in DPRK are accustomed, and state that the most that a LGBT traveler to DPRK can expect in terms of scrutiny is curiosity about their sexual orientation. However, the tour company also notes that asking people from DPRK questions of a sexual nature may cause offense, and should be avoided. They state that LGBT visitors to DPRK "will be accommodated and made to feel welcome in the country".[33]

Interview of a defector on LGBT social situation
A screenshot of the interview about LGBT issues in DPRK appearing in NK News.

Note: There are some apparent editorial comments/questions in parentheses in the original article, and they are preserved here in translation. Additionally, the Korean language often uses gender-neutral pronouns, as well as leaving pronouns out of sentences, although gendered forms of pronouns do exist and may be used. Therefore, the use of pronouns below may be ambiguous or inconsistent with English language conventions.

In a 2015 Korean-language article titled "Are there gays in North Korea? I asked a North Korean!"[36] the following descriptions are given, identified in the article as being provided by Lee Je-sun (이제선), their age stated as "late 20s" and who defected in 2011.

Commenting on their own attitude toward apparently LGBT individuals:

Actually, it was in a South Korean school, while listening to a lecture about women's studies, that I learned about LGBT, since in North Korea I never heard anything about the concept of lesbians or gays. While I was listening to that lecture, I started to piece together [...] things I had experienced in North Korea. When I lived in North Korea, I didn't really think anything about them other than thinking of them as unusual people with unusual tastes. That's because whatever someone's sexual orientation may be, if they like people, we can become friends without any issue. People around would talk behind their back, but they were busy earning a living, so it was just the chatter of older ladies in their free time, and it wasn't contempt or exclusion. [...] I believe that understanding, consideration, and social concern for sexual minorities are necessary.

On the topic of male homosexuality, the interviewee stated:

I have not personally seen gays directly. I've only heard that that kind of behavior comes up a lot in the military, according to what adults said. [...] However, as this could just be an alternative way of relieving the desire for women, it's a bit difficult to conclude that it's gay (homosexuality).

Describing an apparently gender non-conforming individual, the interviewee said:

When I was younger, I once went on a mobilization out to a rural farming village. In North Korea, each year in autumn the first through third-year high school students are sent out to a farming village for a month in order to provide support. At that time, in a very remote country village, I saw an unusual person. They definitely looked like a man, but they wore heavy makeup, and every day they would sit on the stepping stones by the stream. I was quite curious, so I asked the townspeople, and they said that the person was a man but they kept on wearing women's clothing and putting on makeup, so their parents--who were in the city--sent them to go live in the village. I would secretly look at this person with my friends. I found them odd but also fascinating.

Regarding lesbian relationships, the interviewee stated:

I actually saw a lot of lesbians, and even hung out with them. I don't know if it's because I'm a woman, but there were a number of lesbians around. The majority of the lesbians liked wearing mens' clothing. They also would have their hair in a short, sporty style and wear mens' clothing, and would have masculine behaviors. They all liked dating women. According to what adults would say, if a women got involved with one of them, it would be difficult to break up, because it's better than being with a man. They themselves would like it, but the people around them wouldn't. There is also one's social image, and especially the sentiment that one's parents would never give permission.

Regarding the disapproving response of parents to lesbian couples, and the attitude of the police:

People naturally like talking behind others' backs, don't they? The people around them (the lesbian couple) would guess about things they weren't even doing, which would spread rumors. The lesbian's parents had already given up (?) their daughter, so it didn't matter, but the heterosexual girl's parents' stance was different. In order to find some way to get their daughter out of it, they even made a report to the police and hit her. However, even though the police went to get the lesbian, there was no law for punishing her. At most, the police could only scold her for public indecency, and as it would also be difficult for them to hold her accountable for a serious offense, they had her write a pledge to not wear men's' clothes again. The important thing is that even though people would laugh or talk about the lesbians, people didn't despise or exclude them.

Regarding an apparently gender non-conforming and/or possibly intersex and/or bisexual individual, the interviewee said:

There was one unusual person living the next neighborhood over. They were neither a woman nor a man. Thanks to this, the people in that neighborhood were never bored. I didn't know whether I should call them ajimi (big sister?) or uncle, to the point that I would even hesitate because I couldn't distinguish. That person even had a husband and a pair of kids. Even so, they were having an affair with a woman so there was always gossip about them.

This person was masculine to the extent that on first glance, anyone would think they were a man. They had a fuller chest than anyone else, but people took this person to be a man. In North Korea, women can't ride bikes but she alone could ride one.

This was because even the traffic police couldn't distinguish their gender. While they were trying to determine whether they were a woman or a man, they would already have passed by. They also had a good personality and a kind heart, so I liked them a lot. [...]

Whenever I went to my friend's house, they always came there, and they would do all of the house chores that a man does. Of course they maintained a good relationship with their husband and took care of their kids and financial parts, they were responsible for all of these things. Something people were very curious about regarding this person was actually, more so than about them being bisexual, that they earned money well and maintained the house well, maybe they were jealous of her diligence.

The interviewee addresses sexual reassignment surgery procedures, speaking on both intersex-related and gender-affirming reassignment surgery:

In regards to sex reassignment, rather than by individual inclination, it is handled by the government. For example I have heard that if someone is born and they physically don't have male or female genitalia, in the hospital where they are born, after a consultation is done with their parents, they will perform a sex reassignment surgery. However, I haven't experienced this personally and neither has anyone I know, so this is just hearsay. I can confidently say that it is completely impossible in North Korea to change sex based on one's own sexual orientation, regardless of physiological issues. That's because medical facilities aren't developed enough, and there aren't wealthy people to pay the huge expenses in order to support their sexual orientation.[36]

Unreliability of defector testimonies

See also: DPRK Study Guide

Jiyoung Song, former UN Consultant for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights who has interviewed North Korean defectors since 1999, wrote in a 2015 article for the Asia and Pacific Policy Society, that "numerous" testimonies by North Korean defectors "are later found unreliable" and that there is "a fundamental question about heavily relying on defectors’ testimonies as credible evidence" adding, "there are issues with the current methodologies used in investigating North Korean human rights and serious ethical dilemmas many researchers have to deal with."[38]

Among the issues with the current methods of obtaining defector testimonies, Song includes that cash payments have been "standard practice" in the field, paying up to $200 USD per hour as of 2014, and that in South Korea, defectors are paid between $50 to $500 USD per hour, "depending on the quality of information s/he had." Regarding this, Song states that this practice "raises serious questions about the payment as ethical research: What is the impact of payment on interviewees’ stories? How does the payment change the relation between a researcher and an interviewee? The more exclusive stories they have, the higher the fees are." According to Song, "North Korean refugees are well aware of what the interviewer wants to hear" and "The more terrible their stories are, the more attention they receive. The more international invitations they receive, the more cash comes in. It is how the capitalist system works: competition for more tragic and shocking stories."[38]

On her personal experience with interviewing North Korean defectors, former UN Consultant Jiyoung Song states:

In my 16 years of studying North Korean refugees, I have experienced numerous inconsistent stories, intentional omission and lies. I have also witnessed some involved in fraud and other illicit activities. In one case the breach of trust was so significant that I could not continue research. It affected my professional capacity to analyse and deliver credible stories in an ethical manner but also had a deep impact on personal trust I invested in the human subjects I sincerely cared about.[38]

Song also speaks on the role of intelligence agencies in mediating such testimonies:

Behind all these challenges in studying North Korean refugees, there has been a lingering question about the role of the South Korean National Intelligence Service in the making of North Korean defector-activists. The sudden rise and disappearance of certain North Korean defectors, their testimonies before foreign parliaments and the UN or the spread of unverifiable sources of information through major news outlets seem to be facilitated by a combination of various individual and institutional forces.[38]

A photo from the organization Proud to be Us (Laos), a LGBT civil society organization in Laos.[39]

Lao People's Democratic Republic

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Laos, and is not believed to have ever being criminalized. Currently, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the national Constitution of Laos does not expressly address sexual orientation or gender identity issues. Regarding citizens' rights in relation to gender, Article 35 states "Lao citizens are all equal before the law irrespective of their gender, social status, education, beliefs and ethnic group" and Article 37 states "Citizens of both genders enjoy equal rights in the political, economic, cultural and social fields and in family affairs."[40]

According to the website Civil Society Laos, the LGBT organization Proud to Be Us Laos (PTBUL) is directed by Anan Bouapha was established in 2012, operates in Vientiane, and has the stated goal to "Support people with sexual and gender diversity (LGBTIQ) to participate in national development affairs and be the spokesperson/representative of people of sexual and gender diversity in the Lao PDR in order to work with the government to address issues related to this community."[39]

According to Bouapha, PTBUL's director, in a 2015 article: "LGBT’ is still abstract terminology, yet to be clearly identified to the eyes and ears of the public." Additionally, Bouapha is quoted as saying that "Many people might think that Laos is conservative and extremely close-minded when it comes to LGBT issues. Realistically, our culture and mentality seem to be quite open-minded to people from all walks of life [...] I have seen many transgender people wearing traditional costumes to temples, attending traditional ceremonies and some gay students expressing his identity among his peers and teachers."[41]

In 2019, members of PTBUL participated in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which a 2019 UNESCO article states "was a chance for them to show society at home and the international community that LGBTI people in Laos not only exist, but are ready to be seen and heard" and states that with "around 150 participants, mostly Lao government officials, foreign diplomats and members of civil society organizations, it was the biggest IDAHOT celebration to occur in the country to date."[42]

According to a 2008 U.S. Department of State "Human Rights Report": "Within lowland Lao society, despite wide and growing tolerance of homosexual practices, societal discrimination persisted against such practices. There was no official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but social discrimination existed. The government actively promoted tolerance of those with HIV/AIDS, and it conducted awareness campaigns to educate the population and promote understanding toward such persons."[43]

A photo of from the PFLAG Vietnam Facebook Group. PFLAG is an organization for supporting, educating, and advocating for LGBTQ+ people and their families.

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

According to a 2022 article by Vietnam Investment Review, "Vietnam has implemented some legislative protections for the LGBTI+ population. In 2014, the new Marriage and Family Law lifted the restriction on same-sex marriage; while Article 37 of the 2015 Civil Code, which went into effect in 2017, permits gender reassignment surgery."[44]

According to an ILGA Asia report from 2021, "In general, there is more social and cultural tolerance toward LGBTIQ people in the larger cities than that in rural areas. Politically, LGBTIQ activists in Vietnam perceived that they can be more focused when they have to deal with only one single party government."[12]

The ILGA report, quoting one of its members, says the following regarding the relationship between activists and the single party government in Vietnam:

Lawmakers do not know about LGBTIQ and we [activists] provide them with information. Gradually, this has become a peaceful relationship…. Ministries consulted with us about LGBTIQ related issues and vice versa. I think by acting as government’s ally, we can achieve more …and we tactfully advocate for more “space” for our movements and for other human rights CSOs in Vietnam… A vivid example is that we can prove to the world that parades [VietPride events] can be conducted in this country…. The interesting thing is that in Vietnam, human rights can lean on LGBTIQ rights to sustain, that is totally different in many contexts in the world that I would know.[12]

A 2021 article published by NonLa Collective, who describe themselves as a "digital front of Vietnamese communists", speaks on the topic of LGBT issues in Vietnamese politics and history:

As we see it, gender and sexuality liberation has a different character in Vietnam as opposed to capitalist countries precisely because of it NOT being driven by economics. We agree [...] that bourgeois-liberal identity politics constitute little more than marketing ploys and cynical co-opting of LGBTQ+ issues.

Vietnam’s traditional culture was quite open in many ways in terms of gender and sexual liberty, especially compared to contemporary cultures. For instance, being gay has never been criminalized in Vietnam at any point in recorded history, and we have rich traditions such as the Lên đồng, which allowed trans people to live openly in our society.

Prejudices against gay and trans people in Vietnam were heavily exacerbated by foreign influences: first by feudalism, as Neo-Confucianism imposed upon our society the idea that we must be “breeders” (that we are not patriotic or socially subservient if we do not get married and produced children), and next by colonialism, as the French imposed Western prejudices and intolerances on us for many decades.

Therefore, our LGBTQ+ liberation movement has a much different character than Western countries and must be viewed as such. At a grassroots level, Vietnam has native access and traditional experiences to draw from in our struggle for equivalence and liberation in society. We do not have to have access to capitalist wealth and media influence to spread our messaging, as is necessary in capitalist nations (though we do have extremely popular LGBTQ+ celebrities and significant media representation for gay, trans, bisexual, and queer people on national television [...]

With all this being said, we must recognize that LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam still remain an important issue, and much more progress needs to be made. Fortunately, LGBTQ+ community members have been fighting for our rights publicly, with much more activity ramping up over the last decade. And although we have a long way to go, we still have made achievements which should be recognized, especially in terms of social awareness of LGBTQ+ community, increasing acceptance, and relatively low violence towards LGBTQ+ people compared to most other countries on Earth. In addition, the Ministry of Health has officially announced an intention to provide healthcare services for the LGBTQ+ community in its goals for 2021–2030. [...]

Ultimately, it’s true that our society has many problems when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. It’s also true that the Vietnamese revolutionary government can and should do more, and more quickly, to address the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ citizens. But, speaking as LGBTQ+ Vietnamese ourselves, we do not feel as if we need to be “rescued” by foreign-imperialist organizations like USAID, nor do we see how dismantling our revolutionary government would help our LGBTQ+ movement in any way.[5]

In a 2020 article by the Asahi Shimbun entitled, "Vietnam’s ‘first trans dad’ shows LGBT+ openness and challenges", the birth of a child to a transgender couple "highlighted Vietnam’s position as one of the most progressive countries on LGBT+ rights in Asia" and stated that "Vietnam has quietly become a trailblazer on LGBT+ rights in Asia in recent years, with laws to decriminalize gay marriage and allow same-sex couples to live together, although it stopped short of a full legal recognition of such unions."[45]

Grete Lochen, Ambassador of Norway to Vietnam has been quoted as saying, “Vietnam has a youthful, diverse, and proud LGBTI+ community with increasing acceptance from society. Being a lesbian myself, I have personally experienced this advancement very clearly. The country can serve as an example of inclusiveness for other nations in the area, albeit considerable work remains.”[44]

In a 2014 article published by Thanh Nien News, it was stated that the law in Vietnam no longer specifically prohibits same-sex marriages, but says they aren't recognized by the government, saying that it does not allow same-sex partnership either, but noted that "the issue has been open for discussion during many house meetings." The article also mentions that a nationwide survey conducted by iSEE in 2013 found that 57 percent of people supported same sex couples to raise children together and 51 percent supported their rights to legally share assets.[46]

A 2019 article states that "Quality health care services at the public Binh Dan Hospital in HCM City’s District 3 is now being offered to people in the LGBT community." Nguyen Tan Thu, a doctor specializing in serving LGBT people, said the service at a public hospital was especially important because patients had often complained about discriminatory attitudes at public hospital facilities. To meet the high demand of LGBT individuals, the hospital provides counselling about sexual and reproductive health for them and their relatives. The hospital also provides screening, prevention and treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as general counselling. They are also provide counselling about hormone therapy before, during and after transition, and receive treatment for complications after transgender surgery. The article says that Binh Dan Hospital is one of several health facilities in the city providing health care services for LGBT people.[47]

Civil Social Organizations

Civil Social Organisations (CSO) have "closely been controlled by the single party government in Vietnam," according to a 2021 ILGA Asia report on Vietnam. The main reason is that the government is cautious of CSOs, especially those working on human rights, who may do harm to the Communist party and the government. In the past, CSO "was a very sensitive and contentious term in the government’s official documents." However, at the present time, the government is "more open to CSOs working on health and LGBTIQ matters," and the ILGA report quotes an ILGA member as saying that "Not all CSOs working on human rights will have to face tight control from the government… It depends…. If you are working on human rights related to the environment, land or freedom of speech issues, you will be tightly controlled by the government… If you are working on human rights of women or children, you will be given more space for operation.”[12]

Influence of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Catholicism

According to a 2021 ILGA Asia report, Vietnam is heavily influenced by the Confucian culture originating from China that "strongly supports heterosexual and traditional family models of straight men and women. That, in turn, has had significant influence on social perceptions and attitudes toward LGBTIQ people." Additionally, the report states that Buddhism and Catholicism are the major religions in Vietnam, and notes that "there has been no apparent evidence of stigma and discrimination towards the LGBTIQ community in the country from organized religious groups." Under the observation of the researcher, Buddhist philosophy in Vietnam has peaceful and tolerant approaches in embracing LGBTIQ people. Meanwhile, Catholics in Vietnam are believed to be more conservative about LGBTIQ people, although according to the report they "do not inflict harm on the LGBTIQ movement as a whole."[12]

Article 37 of the Civil Code
LGBT activists gather in Hanoi to applaud the National Assembly's approval of a bill for legal gender change legislation in 2015.

In 2015, the Vietnamese National Assembly approved a bill to legalize sex reassignment surgery and to introduce the right to legal gender recognition for transgender people who have undergone such surgery.[48] The National Assembly, having agreed in principle that this law should be made in 2015, have since given a mandate to the Ministry of Health to work out the specifics of that law, as well as how it should be implemented.[14] Regarding the slow progress of the bill, the director of the ICS Center, a nationwide legal advocacy group, stated:

“Though the transgender law is still debated within the transgender community, the main reason that hasn’t been passed is because there have been a lot of new laws proposed in the last two years,” says Linh. “At present, the transgender law is not the Health Ministry's priority. The draft bill has been proposed eight times from 2017 until now but it still hasn’t been prioritised, most likely because this law only affects a small minority of the population.” Despite this challenge, there is a palpable sense of hope and anticipation within the local community that major progress could be made in the next few years. “I don’t think we’ll never be prioritised just because we're a minority,” says Linh. “It just means we need stronger visibility, to raise our voices and express our needs.” [...] “We hope to achieve same sex marriage, hopefully in the next 6 years,” says Linh. “I hope that the transgender law will be resolved sooner, since it’s achieved more progress than the same-sex marriage law.” [14]

Transgender community

According to a 2012 report on the transgender community in Vietnam by the Institute for Studies of Economy, Society, and Environment (ISEE), In Vietnam, the term “transgender” is relatively new, thus the usage of the term may be tricky. A number of Vietnamese terms are currently used to imply “transgender,” such as “người chuyển giới”,“người xuyên giới” or “người vượt giới.” On the other hand, the term “transsexual” is more or less unanimously understood as people who desire to have their bodies changed or have undergone surgeries for sex change. The report states that in practice, "people usually use the term “người chuyển giới”, which causes confusion in both understanding the actual meaning and the subject being referred to. This is because many transgender people do not completely “switch” to the opposite biological sex. Instead, they often have a sense of a vague gender identity, or may change between forms and genders, depending on specific time and circumstances. These individuals are commonly categorized into two groups, namely Male to Female Transgender (MtF) and Female to Male Transgender (FtM)." MTF transgender people in Ho Chi Minh City often call each other “bóng” (shadow), “bóng lộ” (open shadow). In Hanoi, they often use the word “Tigi” (Vietnamese pronunciation of the acronym TG for transgender). FTM transgender people often refer to others and themselves as “trans” and “trans guy”.[49]

The 2012 ISEE report states, "It is obvious that the transgender group is one of the most vulnerable and stigmatised in society" and provides several examples of challenges faced by transgender people both worldwide and within Vietnam, listing examples such as prejudiced and inaccurate messages in media, violence, rape, robbery, bullying at school and lack of support from family, and difficulties in finding employment. The report also notes that transgender people in Vietnam "face prejudices also from the gay and lesbian community, who think that transgender people are the reason for social stigmas against the LGBT community as a whole."[49]

Providing examples of problems faced by the transgender community of Vietnam, a 2020 Asashi Shimbun article quotes Mai Như Thiên Ân, a transgender man and founder of the Female-to-Male (FTM) Vietnam Organization:

“When trans people go for a checkup at the hospital, they would be denied because their gender on paper doesn’t match their appearance," [...] The biggest problem is health care. Trans people still buy and inject hormones on their own and go to ‘underground’ places for (reassignment) surgery,” said An, 26, who since 2015 has run a Facebook transgender support group with over 5,500 members.[45]

LGBT-related media in Vietnam

The director of the ICS center, a legal advocacy group, spoke on LGBT representation in media:

“In the past 2-3 years, there has been a lot of LGBTQ representation,” says Linh. “Talk shows and reality shows create a lot of positive influence, although most of them are not perfect, and there are still stereotypes and bias. But it does bring different stories to the general public. That is something we appreciate about the media. And we will need all this visibility and much more in order to pass the transgender law in Vietnam.”[14]

The article notes that though stigma and harmful stereotypes certainly remain in pop culture, LGBTQI+ representation seems to be steadily increasing and improving in Vietnam. Citing examples, the article says that in the Spring of 2019, popular TV game show Người Ấy Là Ai featured a young gay male contestant who shared his story on national television. His parents later joined him onstage and talked about how they had come to love, accept, and celebrate their son for who he is, and former Vietnam Idol singer and transgender pop icon, Huong Giang, is also a regular judge on this show, which has subsequently featured a handful of other LGBTQI+ contestants.[14]

In contrast to these recent increases of positive representation in media, a 2012 study on challenges faced by the transgender community in Vietnam, by ISEE, describes the state of LGBT representation in media back in 2012: "Prejudiced and inaccurate messages in the media and telecommunication channels have created and enforced misleading perceptions and social stigmas. Transgender people are described as 'homosexual', 'ridiculous' or 'sick'. They are not even regarded as a community" and adds that "the media often mistakenly regards transgenderism and homosexuality as the same, which causes the homosexual community to distance itself from the transgender community."[49]

As of mid-2022, the Vietnamese LGBT+ YouTube Channel "Come Out - LGBT Việt Nam" had 328.6K subscribers and features interviews of LGBT individuals in Vietnam.

In 2015, a biographical documentary film called Finding Phong (Vietnamese: Đi Tìm Phong) was released, following the journey of a Vietnamese trans person seeking to transition and receive sexual reassignment surgery. According to VN Express, it was the first independent Vietnamese documentary to be screened in the country's top cinema chains, and Vietnamese film authorities gave it a rating of "suitable for all ages."[50]

According to an article titled, "Founding A Community For Transgender Men in Vietnam" from Trans World View, there was "practically no visibility" for transgender men in Vietnam in 2009. However, in that year, "a young transgender man named Nguyễn Thiện Trí Phong, who goes by Aki, began sharing his experience of being transgender through newspapers, television, and other media." This increased visibility helped the community of transgender men in Vietnam become more visible and grow. According to Mai Như Thiên Ân, the founder of FTM Vietnam, "[Before him], if transgender men took hormones, they went ‘stealth’ and tried to live like cisgender men. Young transgender men who were not taking hormones were afraid and said they were lesbians. Aki’s visibility helped create a safe zone." According to the article, the website LesKing also gradually began expanding to include transgender men. In 2011, it featured an article that helped its readers understand the differences between identifying as “SB,” a tom/tomboy (another identity for a masculine woman), and a transgender man. The article states: "it was an “aha” moment for hundreds, if not thousands, of transgender men like Ân who finally felt they had a way to explain their identity."[51]

Former AES countries

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

Mongolian People’s Republic

People's Socialist Republic of Albania

People's Republic of Bulgaria

Czechoslovakia

East Germany

Hungarian People's Republic

Polish People's Republic

Socialist Republic of Romania

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