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Gay-rights supporters stand on sidelines of Tet parade

LGBT supporters on sidelines of Tet parade

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

WESTMINSTER – Where there were dark clouds there were also rainbows, lots of them, in the hands of members of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group and their supporters.

They waved tiny flags and large flags and held up large metal hearts each a bright red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple on the sidelines of the annual Tet parade held Sunday morning in Westminster's Little Saigon neighborhood to celebrate the Vietnamese new year.

The group gathered as spectators since the parade's organizer had barred the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations from walking in the event as it had for the past three years. A court ruling recently upheld the organizer's decision.

Parade-goers lining the route stretching from Magnolia to Bushard streets along Bolsa Avenue waving to men and women dressed in military fatigues, elected officials riding in the back of convertibles, rows of martial artists and even mariachis riding on Midway City's entry for its Sanitary District.

Luis Grajeda, of Garden Grove, helped his daughter Vanessa, 5, place a dollar bill in the mouth of one of the costume dragons dancing along the route. He's been bringing his family to the Tet parade for three years and numerous other parades to introduce his daughters to new cultures.

He said he wouldn't have a problem with the LGBT group participating in the parade.

"I think all the people have the same rights," he said. "Why not?"

Thuy Vo Dang, a professor and director of the Vietnamese American Oral History Project at UC Irvine, had been to the parade before, but this year brought her children – 2-year-old Austen and 6-year-old Allyse – to support the LGBT group.

"I didn't want to miss the opportunity to teach my children about social justice," she said. "There's no one way to be a Vietnamese American."

She said the decision to bar the group was disheartening and regressive since it had successfully fought to be included a few years ago. The decision also didn't reflect the community's diversity, she said.

Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, and Jose Solorio, vice president of the Rancho Santiago Community College District board of trustees, each got out of their parade convertibles to greet the LGBT group.

Solorio ultimately let his convertible continue without him after he joined the group on the sidelines.

"I thought it was important for me to convey a message of inclusiveness and equality," he said afterward. Before the parade, he said every one should be able to ring in the new year, regardless of whether the organizers of the event are a public agency or, in this case, a private group.

"Looks pretty public to me," he said of the parade as he walked toward the staging area.

The city of Westminster had funded and organized the parade until this year, when city officials said their budget couldn't handle it. A private group of community members – coordinated as the Vietnamese Federation of Southern California – took it on.

When the LGBT group submitted its application to participate in the parade as it had the three years prior, the new organizers said no.

Organizers believed the LGBT group's purpose and theme strayed from that of the Tet parade, to a lawyer representing the Vietnamese Federation of Southern California said in a court brief.

The Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California, which sponsors the popular Tet Festival, had invited some of the LGBT group's members to march alongside them.

But that act of solidarity didn't occur quite as planned.

Natalie Newton, leader of the LGBT group, said the parade's organizers pressured the students Saturday night to ditch the invitation or risk boycotts of their festival.

The student sponsored Tet Festival is unaffiliated with the parade.

"This kind of bullying, this is not community leadership," Newton said. "We insist that we belong here."

Calls seeking comment from a festival organizer and the student group weren't returned.

Newton said the student group usually has 50 or so people marching with it in the parade, but by the time the student group made its appearance on Sunday, there were just a handful.

"I truly believe they were making a statement," Newton said of the small number of marching students. As the students walked by, the LGBT group released clusters of pink balloons with rainbow flags attached.

With the parade over, Newton said the group would gather all the evidence of support it garnered from the city and elected leaders and take it to Westminster's mayor and city attorney to argue for inclusion in next year's event.


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