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US Ambassador Becomes Face of Vietnam’s LGBT Evolution

Image: PRESIDENT CLINTON

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, right, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh MInh, second from right, Clayton Bond, spouse of U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius, third from right and U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius, far left, toast at an event celebrating 239th anniversary of the U.S. independence and 20th anniversary of normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam on Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday July 2, 2015. Clinton lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam in 1994 and normalized relations with the communist country a year later. TRAN VAN MINH / AP

Vietnam hosted its 4th LGBT Pride celebration this year in Hanoi, the capital of the nation and its second largest city. Among the revelers was Ted Osius, the US Ambassador to Vietnam. Despite persistent rain on the fourth and final day of the festivities, Osius, who is openly gay, rode through the streets of Hanoi with over 300 other cyclists to support LGBT rights in Vietnam.

Image: The fourth Viet Pride in Hanoi
United States Ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius (2-R) rides bicycle as he takes part in the fourth Viet Pride parade at a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, 02 August 2015. LUONG THAI LINH / EPA

Since assuming his post late last year, Osius and his husband, Clayton Bond, have become public figures in the LGBT advocacy community in Vietnam, where same-sex activity is already legal, but cultural norms in some regions are still catching up to the country's policies.

Many Southeast Asian countries still have laws criminalizing homosexual sex, including Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, as well as some Indonesian provinces. A 2015 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association found that Brunei, a small Southeast Asian nation bordering Malaysia, is planning to phase in a Shariah Penal Code Order by the end of 2016 “at which point the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual behavior is due to apply.”

Osius, who met his husband at a meeting of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, or GLIFAA, which Osius cofounded, often finds himself answering questions about his sexual identity, and the example he's setting in his high-profile position. According to Bloomberg Business, Osius said in an interview, “A lot of young people have reached out to me on Facebook, to say: ‘We are happy to see somebody who is gay and is happy in his personal life but also has had professional success.'"

The couple, who were honored in a 2013 bulletin by the U.S. Department of State during LGBT Pride Month, have two adopted children - a 19-month-old son named Tabo, and an infant daughter named Lucy.

Vietnam’s Pride festivities began on July 30 this year with a talk on the US Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage across the United States and subsequent “Insights for Vietnam,” according to the website of the festival organizers.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Vietnam on August 7 to commemorate the two decade anniversary since the US and Vietnam normalized diplomatic relations. According to the ambassador's Facebook page, Osius and Bond renewed their marriage vows in a private ceremony presided over by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that same weekend.

Osius told Bloomberg that he is “supporting Vietnamese civil society in doing what it is already doing.”

“This is a core interest of ours with regard to human rights," Osius' husband said in a recent interview. "People see us as an openly gay couple with kids serving our country. I hope people find that inspiring.”

Image: United States Second Lady Jill Biden visits Vietnam
US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius (C) talks to children as he visits the Ba Vi Orphanage with Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (not pictured) in Ba Vi, Hanoi, Vietnam 20 July 2015. The Second Lady is on her visit to Hanoi from 19 to 20 July 2015. LUONG THAI LINH / EPA