Activists in Vietnam and abroad have warmly welcomed the decision by the National Assembly to grant some recognition to the estimated 270,000 transgender people in Vietnam.

The Assembly last week approved a bill that would legalize sex reassignment surgery for the first time, and allow those who have undergone such procedures to register under a different gender on official documents.

The new law follows two years of campaigning by LGBT activists. In the past, some Vietnamese people have gone to Thailand for the surgery.

Hundreds of activists and advocates rallied in Hanoi to celebrate the passing of the law, which will come into effect at the beginning of 2016.

They described it as an important and much welcomed first step.

“We are celebrating this victory not only for our community, but also for our country. Vietnam has become more tolerant and inclusive,” said Nguyen Hai Yen, the project manager of ICS, an LGTB lobby group based in Ho Chi Minh City.

“A lot of work still needs to be done to ensure a gender recognition procedure that meets transgender people’s needs. But in amending the civil code, an important door has been opened for us.”

The right to decide

Human Rights Watch said the move was a small but significant step towards the recognition of transgender people’s rights.

However, it said the requirement for surgical procedures as a precondition was still at odds with people’s right to be identified with the gender they identify with.

Under the Yogyakarta Principles, countries are requested to allow people to define their own gender identity.

“In further revising the law, Vietnam should take guidance from the Yogyakarta Principles and the growing medical consensus that surgery should not be a requirement to change one’s gender identity,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch.

“Transgender people in Vietnam should have the right to decide for themselves who they are.”

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