Standing in Solidarity, Against Discrimination

Students Join Vietnamese LGBT Community on Lunar New Year’s

On Sunday, the Vietnamese LGBT contingent protested its exclusion from marching in Westminster’s Tet parade in Little Saigon.

Standing on the sidewalk, the LGBT contingent, which included non-Vietnamese supporters and non-LGBT allies, including a number of UC Irvine students,   waved miniature rainbow, South Vietnamese and American flags to peacefully participate in the annual Lunar New Year holiday parade they were excluded from for the first time since they began participating three years ago.

Tuấn Trọng Lê, 50, led the crowd in chants of “Nhân Quyên (human rights), LGBT! Đồng Tính (Vietnamese term for LGBT), LGBT!”

Andy Nguyen Le, a third-year UCI student and External Chair of the Southeast Asian Student Association, said it was important for student organizations to attend and support issues even outside the UCI community.

“It was not right to exclude the Partnership of Vietnamese LGBTQ Organizations from the parade because they are Vietnamese; they live in this community, and come from the same roots,” he said.  “I believe there is a misunderstanding about LGBTQ in the community and that it is necessary to have more dialogue to educate the Vietnamese community.

“Student organizations can play an important role to to make sure this discriminatory behavior does not happen again and to engage with the Vietnamese community in a more nuanced understanding, of the Vietnamese American experience within popular culture.”

Natalie Newton, 28, organizer of the LGBT contingent, explained that the exclusion of LGBT Vietnamese-Americans in this year’s parade stems from the privatization of the event. Due to the economic recession, the city of Westminster could no longer fund the event.

Consequently, the resulting gap in the parade’s planning leadership was filled by the Interfaith Council of Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster, a group whose slogan is “Promoting Respect and Understanding for the Integrity of Each Other’s Beliefs, Cultures and Traditions” and has boycotted the LGBT contingent’s participation for the past three years. No other group volunteered to head the organizing committee.

Newton emphasized that the City needs to set legal precedent for more transparency in the planning of such a community event. Without a clear process, she said, “it allows a small group to control and exclude other community members.”

Draped in two rainbow flags and calling himself Miss Saigon, Hoàng Hồ Ho, 43, heard about the exclusion last week and came down from San Francisco to show support.

“I think it’s outrageous because we are Vietnamese and we are LGBT and part of the Vietnamese community,” he said.

Ho remarked that he felt welcomed by the Vietnamese community in Westminster, regardless of whether or not they identified as LGBT.

“The excluders don’t represent the majority of the Vietnamese community,” Hồ said. Ho noted that it is sad that the minority opinion has so much influence in deciding who gets to participate in the parade.

“I think if Jesus was here today, he would support this too,” said Wolfgang Shane, 42, as a group of three religious opponents marched by with bullhorns condemning those on the sidewalk of their sins while holding a sign that read “Come to Jesus for Eternal Life.”

Informed of the contingent’s exclusion by his Vietnamese wife, Shane said, “This is just so wrong so that’s why I’m here.”

Westminster City Council Member Diana Carey waved miniature rainbow, South Vietnamese and American flags as she marched by the crowd in a traditional Vietnamese dress. The LGBT contingent showed their gratitude towards Carey and other supporters by cheering them as they passed by.

Cheers quickly turned into boos as a parade organizer took the miniature rainbow flag handed to the driver of the van leading the Elmore Toyota contingent and threw it in the back seat. A local car leadership and supporter of the LGBT contingent, Elmore Toyota has stated that they will severely diminish or completely rescind financial sponsorship of next year’s parade if the discriminatory exclusion continues.

Newton noted that so far the IFC members of the parade committee have not budged even in the face of financial repercussions and urging by elected officials. The LGBT community and their lawyer have also met with the parade organizers and the IFC at least twice, to no avail.

“Their minds are already made,” Newton said, referring to the committee’s refusal to even consider the elected officials’ suggestion to preface the inclusion of the LGBT contingent in the parade with a statement of disavowal.

Newton said the LGBT community is going to collect all the reports, documents, and media surrounding this year’s parade and show it to the mayor and city attorney to urge for the inclusion of a non-discrimination clause for not just future Tết parades, but public events like it.

“It has to be done,” Newton said.

In light of the LGBT community’s exclusion from the Westminster parade, neighboring Santa Ana is preparing ordinance to prevent this from happening, according to Newton.