At last, they marched.
On Saturday, dozens of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants marched in the annual Tet parade in Little Saigon. The rainbow flag, a distinctive symbol of gay pride, fluttered alongside emblems of California, the United States and South Vietnam.
"We love you," participants yelled at friends, family members and thousands of others lining the parade route in Westminster, many dressed to celebrate the Lunar New Year. "We love you, too," some eager youths responded, whistling with joy.
The historic moment followed months of fighting as organizers initially sought to ban LGBT activists from joining one of the community's biggest events. But after increasing political pressure, the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California called a local assembly and voted in January to open participation in the parade.
"We did it," said Hieu Nguyen, founder of Viet Rainbow of Orange County, which organized after the ban was announced last year. "It goes back to what we all believe: We are here to stay. We are a part of this community, and as a community, we are not complete without each other."
Parade participant An Nguyen said her teenage daughter, Lucy Ngo, is active in Viet Rainbow. Ngo and other youths ushered in the Year of the Horse by draping themselves in loose shirts or traditional ao dai dresses and donning conical hats.
"We need to show we are there for our kids," said Nguyen, who was pushed in her wheelchair down Bolsa Avenue alongside other marchers. "If they decide this is who they are, then that's who they are."
Xuyen Dong-Matsuda, a community leader and healthcare worker, marched at the front of the procession, under an arch of rainbow balloons.
"I want to help them affirm their identity," Dong-Matsuda said of the LGBT marchers. "They need to be comfortable, be proud. LGBTs make so many contributions in all facets of life, but people don't always know about that."
Even as the parade was about to begin, the question remained whether LGBT participants would be allowed to carry rainbow flags. But in the end no one opposed the move.
In fact, rainbows could be seen on shirts, ties and armbands. After volunteers passed out mini-rainbow flags, men, women and toddlers could be seen waving them as marchers walked past.
The Viet Rainbow group was 59th among 75 parade entries, which included the Lien Hoa Buddhist temple and Lien Doan Chi Lang, the oldest Vietnamese American Scout troop in the nation, having launched in 1979. There were also students from martial arts studios, including one led by Grand Master Dang Huy Duc, a tae kwon do national champion of Vietnam, competing for the limelight with native-language schools and Ban Tu Ca, performing patriotic music.
Politicians also joined in the fun. Candidates and legislators serving Vietnamese Americans included Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and the entire City Councils of Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Westminster, with some members choosing to walk and shake hands with children and seniors.
Grand marshal and Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, vocal in his endorsement of LGBT presence in the parade, tucked lucky red envelope treats or li xi into open hands. He preceded members of Da Lat's Political Warfare College and the Lien Uy Ban Chong Cong San va Tay Sai, an anti-Communist association.
Kevin Cutler, an elementary school teacher from Fountain Valley, marveled at the diversity of the marchers, including those who are gay.
"There are communities within communities," he said, holding Emily, his half-Vietnamese daughter. "I sure think it's important to express we're all vital, we all should be here."