A survey of school children in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s capital, has revealed that a quarter of them believe at least 10% of their class mates are gay.

HCMC University of Pedagogy conducted the poll of 300 pupils at three junior high and high schools and discovered that 80% of pupils al said “no” when asked “is homosexuality bad?”

Experts believe that while the actual number of gay pupils is difficult to determine, open homosexuality in schools appears to be on the rise, despite still carrying social stigma amongst the adult population.

Homosexuality is legal in Vietnam but same-sex marriages are banned and there are no legal protections against discrimination.

Nguyen Thi Tam, director of the Hon Viet Applied Psychology Company, has experienced a rapid increase in the number of 13 to 17-year-olds receiving sexual counselling.

“In 2006 every month we provided counselling to 10 teenagers on average. But in the first eight months of this year, the number doubled,” she told Thanh Nien News.

While children are becoming more open to discussing their sexuality, adults and teachers don’t often know to respond.

A mental health counsellor at Hon Viet said that most pupils were lonely and confused when discussing their sexuorientation.

Often social pressures and the stigma attached to being gay meant they were depressed, or felt indifferent, rebellious or even suicidal.

Parental reaction was typically unsupportive and many sought advice themselves for shock and depression. Some cried as they discussed their situation.

In contrast the survey revealed that most pupils said one was free to choose one’s own sexuality and could not be blamed for his or her sexual orientation.

72% of those with gay classmates said they remained friends after discovering their friends’ sexual orientation.

Some 34% said they tried to console their friends, 35% said they kept it secret, and 13% said they were “afraid.”

Only 2% said they looked at their homosexual friends with contempt.

The HCMC University of Pedagogy organised a recent conference on teenagers’ sexual orientation for teachers, pupils and doctors.

It is hoped that more will be held to help raise the issue and make life easier for gay or lesbian teenagers.