Van Truong Phuc of Viet Rainbow of Orange County, an LGBT group, wipes his… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)
Despite the unrelenting objections of gay rights activists, city leaders in the heart of America's largest Vietnamese-American community voted unanimously to give a permit to organizers of a Lunar New Year parade who vowed to block gays from participating.
Members of the Westminster City Council voiced sympathy to those barred from the colorful Tet parade, but said they had no choice but to grant the permit, since they had been advised by the city attorney that organizers of a private event have a free-speech right to determine its content.
After listening to comments from opposing sides for about an hour and a half, an angry councilwoman, Diana Carey, finally said, "I spent my whole ... life fighting against discrimination.... But having said that, I took an oath to support the Constitution and First Amendment rights. As egregious as this is, I have to support this."
Viet Rainbow of Orange County's efforts to land a spot in the parade, one of the signature events in Little Saigon, has grown into a test of will between increasingly sophisticated activists and some tradition-bound immigrants who have dragged their feet in recognizing gay rights.
Members of Viet Rainbow had asked council members to reject the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California's application for a permit, calling it "an organization that has a history of discrimination."
"This walk in the parade is not just about LGBT rights. It is neither about freedom of choices nor freedom of speech, but it is about our freedom from oppression, our freedom to be ourselves with dignity," said Cathy Lam, spokeswoman of Parents of Rainbow Children.
Councilman Andy Quach agreed, saying the controversy was tarnishing the image of Westminster, the home of Little Saigon, and he and Councilwoman Margie Rice blamed organizers for putting the city on the "defensive again." Organizers banished the gay rights group from the last parade as well.
Nghia X. Nguyen, who heads the federation sponsoring the parade, said his group applied to take charge "to share the traditional and social values of [the] Vietnamese that has been passed on from generation to generation."
At the urging of city leaders, however, he agreed to sit down and talk with Viet Rainbow in a session moderated by Mayor Tri Ta and Councilman Sergio Contreras to negotiate a compromise.