The first episode of a gay-themed sit-com, posted on YouTube in Vietnam, has gone viral and been viewed more than one million times, vaulting gay life in the Southeast Asian country into the headlines.
Created by a 21-year-old gay student, “My Best Gay Friends pulls stories from the lives of a group of gay and lesbian Vietnamese youth and dramatizes them in what the creator says is an effort to show that the lives of gay people are “very normal” and “to bring true images of homosexuals to everyone to change their perspective.”
Dang Khoa, a theater student in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam’s largest metropolis, funds, writes, shoots and edits the show himself. He told 429Magazine that he put the program on YouTube to cater to the entertainment habits of young Vietnamese, and to avoid potential issues of trying to put a gay program on television in a country known for its repressive media laws.
“Most of the local youth never spend time to watching TV – most of their time is for virtual world, internet and social networks,” he said, adding that Internet broadcasts via YouTube make it possible to keep the production budget low.
“Even if I would want it to be on TV, it is so difficult for someone without power to put it on the air. This is sensitive for a socialist country – it is [unusual]to talk about LGBT issues in mass media.”
The plot line is created from the lives of Khoa and his friends, a cabal of gay students and activists.
“I try to express reality that comes from real situations that I and my friends experience,” Khoa explained, “like a guy stealing my phone when he met me for the first time, or a guy sneaking away after online dating.”
The LGBT rights movement in Vietnam has in recent years gained attention as events and public statements have become gradually more common.
Last summer a statement by the Justice Minister stoked hope that the country might be considering legalizing same-sex marriage and activists staged the first gay pride parade. This summer the second parade, dubbed Viet Pride, will be partially sponsored by the Swedish government and activists have already begun to call on international corporations to pressure the government to make pro-LGBT changes.
Public space for discussing LGBT issues is crucial if progress is to be maintained.
“In Vietnam, we and LGBT communities pursue the work of public education and building an open space for dialogues between LGBT and non-LGBT people,” a spokesperson from Trung Tam ICS, a leading LGBT resource center in Vietnam, told 429Magazine.
As for this pop culture internet sensation’s contribution to the movement, Khoa said: “The media is our power. It is where we could say our words on who we are, what we want.”
“Thanks to the internet and mass media, my show is more recognizable and through that people are changing their minds about LGBT and pro-LGBT activities are known much more among people.”