UCI Anthropologist Out to Prove Gay People Exist … in Vietnam

A UC Irvine anthropologist is highlighting the contributions of LGBT Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in order to dispel the absurd myth that there are no gay people in Vietnamese culture and history.

Natalie Newton, a junior fellow in the school's department of anthropology and a Vietnamese American woman whose parents moved to the United States after the fall of Saigon, started the Viet LGBT History Campaign in February as a response to the exclusion of the Vietnamese LGBT community from last year's Tet parade.


After three years of regularly participating in the parade, LGBT Vietnamese community members were not allowed to enter a float after the organizer of the event changed from the City of Westminster to a coalition of community groups, one of which was the Vietnamese Interfaith Council, which has pushed for a boycott of the parade in the past due to the participation of LGBT groups.

Some in the Vietnamese community feel that homosexuality is a disease, and the topic is still taboo in Vietnam. Homophobic Vietnamese called homosexuality a western disease while westerners called it a Vietnamese disease.

“Frenchman claimed that Vietnamese women were so ugly with blackened teeth from betel nut chewing that this 'forced' colonials into engaging in homosexuality under the influence of opium,” Newton told Gay Star News.

Current profiles in the project include the etymology of the word “pê dê,” Vietnamese slang similar to the word “faggot”; an article about “Đồng cô,” figures in a traditional Vietnamese religion; a profile of the 17th emperor of Vietnam, Khải Định; and work by Vietnamese poet Xuân Diệu.

“What we hope to accomplish is two-fold.The inner fold of our campaign was to respond to the Tet Parade organizers who said that 'LGBT is against Vietnamese tradition,'” said Newton. “The broader fold of our campaign is to address homophobic cultural beliefs that silence homosexual and transgender histories that exist even today in Vietnamese culture.”

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