It’s 9am (again), and we’re in a Grab (Uber, Southeast Asia-style), heading to CSAGA. Their offices are only 6km from where we’re staying, but in the Hanoi traffic it's about a 50-minute drive. It dawns on us that if this were Sydney, it'd be gridlock. But the traffic flows. How? A dawning realisation ... there are no traffic lights, and everyone is travelling at the same (albeit slow) speed. Is this another lesson for Gladys?
With our newfound Hanoi navigation skills, we find the street number: 9A. Chris and Fyfe have taught us always to trust the street number, no matter how unlikely it looks, as all premises must list the street address somewhere on their shopfront.
9A definitely appears to be a coffee shop. 'Level 4,' says Sarah and then Mel spots the logo, cunningly hidden behind a pot plant. So there must be stairs inside. We open the cafe door: tables, chairs, a coffee machine, a staff member. 'CSAGA?' we say tentatively. The woman nods, smiles and opens a door completely camouflaged by wall decals, to reveal a lift foyer.
CSAGA (Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents) focuses on gender-based violence, domestic violence, bullying, human trafficking and gay rights. We are meeting with Ms Mai Buoi, head of the LBGTQ program, and Ms Tran Quyen, a project officer on CSAGA’s Women Loving Women (WLW) project. Their air-conditioned office is welcome; Buoi pours tea while Quyen sets up a PowerPoint presentation.
45 minutes later, we're not only very well-informed, but seriously inspired. CSAGA's work is extensive, but their key tools are art and other creative projects. In fact the women can only spare an hour with us as they're leaving for a work trip in the north to film a gay man and a lesbian woman who chose to marry to fulfil expectations around family obligations. It’s a common story, but one that few are prepared to tell. This couple are two of 20 originally approached to tell their story. The others dropped out, fearing a backlash.
CSAGA doesn't work only with cis-gendered women, or with lesbians. The WLW program now covers women of all kinds - cis to trans - in relationships of all kinds - homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, sex work, and so on. They also tackle the thorny issue of domestic violence in lesbian relationships, as well as looking after the interests of children mothered by all kinds of WLW.
'Visibility is a problem', Quyen tells us. 'Also, the media do not understand sexuality or gender so they spread false news, reinforcing prejudices.' This is certainly something which resonates with us and we drift again briefly to the Marriage Equality debate of last year.
Buoi has visited Sweden, and saw their pride parade. This inspired CSAGA to support a Pride Festival in Hanoi in 2012. It seems that embassies the world over are very attuned to the LGBTQI+ community, some more so than their own governments.
We’re at the end of the presentation. It’s our turn now to present our story and to ask how Pacific Pride Choir can collaborate. We all see a synergy between CSAGA's arts and creative programs and the choir. Eagle-eyed as ever, we both spot a very nice gallery space in the presentation slides. Looks perfect for a choir.
The two women talk amongst themselves. We stress that we don’t expect an immediate answer. Sarah and I drink more tea and eat the biscuits which have been offered while they debate.
Yes - they think that our project is good, and that we can work together. They like the idea of cooperating through the medium of art and in a public space. They know some high profile artists, maybe some dancers too, who could come together with us in a concert. We'll all be in touch, especially Buoi, who has an Australian government scholarship to study leadership in our country.
Downstairs, life in the coffee shop goes on, although our world has changed a little bit, and for the better.