By Anh Do
7:49 PM PST, December 10, 2013
Vietnamese American activists say they will ask Westminster officials to block organizers from staging the colorful Tet parade because they refuse to allow gays to participate in the Lunar New Year event.
Parade organizers barred LGBT individuals from marching in the 2013 event and last month voted to ban them again from the upcoming parade. Shunned by one of the community's signature events, many of the gay rights activists stood along the parade route to protest their ouster.
Inspired by the activism, they formed Viet Rainbow of Orange County and plan to lobby Westminster council members Wednesday to intervene in what they say is outright discrimination.
"If my 97-year-old grandmother can accept me for who I am, why should some parade organizers get to make me feel like I'm not good enough to march?" one member wrote on the group's website.
The showdown Wednesday at the Westminster council meeting could be a test of wills in an immigrant community that has been slow to recognize gay rights.
"If the city decides to grant the permit letting the event happen, we'll ask city officials not to be in the parade and join us at the parade site in solidarity," said Hieu Nguyen, a founder of Viet Rainbow.
But leaders in Little Saigon, which stretches across central Orange County and is the largest Vietnamese American community in the nation, said that some immigrants are not ready to welcome LGBT men and women and do not see gay rights as being on par with such things as freedom of speech.
Westminster Councilman Sergio Contreras said he sympathizes with the activists. "I'm asking for inclusion. And peace," he said. "We all will be celebrating a community holiday, and the parade has been a part of that for many, many years. We all want everyone to be welcomed."
But he said the council has been advised by the city attorney's office to stay out of the parade debate because it is a privately funded event, though the city does issue organizers a permit to stage the celebration.
"The city's hands are tied. If the organizers meet all the requirements needed to hold a public event, we must give them the event permit," Contreras said. "I'm praying for a compromise — somehow that both sides can work together to make everyone happy."
The Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California, which organizes the parade, has not commented on the parade controversy. But some of its members are religious conservatives who in the past have refused to budge when it comes to acceptance of gay rights. In November, the group voted 47 to 21 against LGBT participation.
Lawyers for Viet Rainbow recently sent city officials a letter saying they have evidence the federation needed the city's help in staging the last parade and may sue if the city declines to "use its position as de facto organizer of the event" to land the group a spot in the parade.
"We hope to avoid a lawsuit," Nguyen said. "But we have a lot of options and we will stay true to our cause because the parade is for the community. They say LGBTs are not part of our tradition, but then allow Hawaiian dancers to come in, and is that part of Vietnamese tradition?"
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