After barring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from last year's Tet parade in Orange County, Vietnamese American community members voted 51-36 on Saturday to include them in the Lunar New Year event scheduled for Feb. 1.
Supporters called the move historic, pushing opponents not to tarnish the community's image by locking out a vocal segment of its immigrant population.
"When there's a vote to include or exclude, it makes me sad. But we have always been fighting for inclusion and equality -- and we knew that inclusion and equality will eventually triumph," said Hieu Nguyen, founder of Viet Rainbow of Orange County. The group formed after last year's battles with the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California, the organization leading the charge against visible LGBT participation.
Last November, federation members voted against LGBT participation for 2014. But at a City Council meeting in December in Westminster -- where the parade will be held -- federation head Nghia X. Nguyen agreed to meet with gay leaders to try to find a compromise for inclusion.
Nguyen later organized a community assembly, inviting dozens of representatives to cast their ballots Saturday. With 97 votes collected, among them 10 abstentions, the result proved a win for activists.
Among those that voted in favor of LGBT people marching in the parade were the influential South Vietnamese Marines Veteran Charities Assn. and the Union of Vietnamese Student Assn. of Southern California, the nonprofit hosting the Tet festival, a huge celebration independent of the parade.
"Congratulations" to the community "for taking a step towards a brighter tomorrow and showing compassion to all," Nina Tran, the union president, wrote on her Facebook page.
"I'm really happy to see both sides coming together," said Westminster Councilman Sergio Contreras, who attended the assembly along with Mayor Tri Ta. Both men were given ballots, he added, and both voted to welcome LGBT participation.
In December, the entire Westminster council approved a parade permit for the federation, based on legal advice that they were required to uphold 1st Amendment rights.
Saturday's results will encourage him and fellow elected officials to march in the parade rather than boycott what might be a "discriminatory activity," said Contreras, adding: "To welcome everyone is a big step. I hope this is the start of stronger relationships."