Saturday, February 13, 2010

Queer & Vietnamese & NOT Invisible: LGBTQIA Contingent in Tet Parade

Okay, so this is not directly Los Angeles-related, but it's something I have to write about because I grew up not far from, and went to high school in, the heart of Little Saigon.

In case you didn't know, I'm queer, Asian, and female. Fun, right? Especially in Orange County! 

I'm Khmer. I never went to the Tet Festival, and the barricades that went up in preparation for the Tet Parade were a nuisance to getting to class on time. Despite having many Vietnamese friends and growing up in a Vietnamese community, I didn't participate in these affairs. 

This year, I'll be going down to attend the parade for the first time ever. Why? Because for the first time ever, Vietnamese LGBTQA organizations are going to participate in the parade

This is huge. So often it feels like those of us who live in the intersection of sexuality and race (as in those of us who are not white and not straight) find ourselves having to choose-- not always consciously, at times very consciously-- between our racial identity and our sexual identity, depending on the spaces that we're in. I and many of my peers have had that experience of feeling that our queer selves are invisible when we are with our families or in Asian American spaces. 

On Saturday, a contingent of Vietnamese lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally folks are going to do something amazing: they are going to be visible during the Tet Parade & Festival

They've been met with opposition from councilmembers such as Andy Quach, who said in a press release to Vietnamese newspapers:  
This is an unfortunate event but as the city official and president of the Tet Parade organization I can not prevent it from happening. As an individual, I protest the participation of this group in the traditional and full-of-joy celebration of the Vietnamese people.
and from the conservative Vietnamese church community, who have told their members to stay away from the parade in protest of LGBT participation, stating that
During Tet, we don’t bring up ugly matters, anything unseemly in the family we hide it away, we only bring out what’s good.
I was profoundly angry when I read of Andy Quach's statement, and deeply upset with the church community's reaction.That Vietnamese LGBTQ people should be scorned for simply wanting to be wholly themselves and wholly visible during the "celebration of the Vietnamese people" is outrageous. That queerness is an "ugly matter" or "unseemly" is incredibly frustrating.

When I came out to friends in high school, I was surprised by my Catholic Vietnamese friends-- they were fully accepting of me. It wasn't an issue. I was so glad that despite growing up in a conservative community, my experience coming out was pretty uneventful. My friend Andrew brought up a great point on Facebook:
are Catholics any more accurate representations ...of Vietnamese heritage... an organized religion that was inducted in the last 150 years due to French Imperialism. Let's go for a more inclusive rather than divisive model of culture identity and community PEOPLE!
I can't help thinking about the first time I encountered API PFLAG (Asian Pacific-Islander Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays) in the Long Beach Pride Parade when I was a student at UC Irvine. I ran up to Asian mom Ellen Kameya and hugged her-- I could have cried at seeing that an Asian parent could be so accepting, loving, supportive of her child's right to love.

I want to show the members of those churches the documentary In God's House, which focuses on Asian American Lesbian & Gay families in the church (consequently, Ellen Kameya is one of the subjects of the film).

Silence and invisibility are a great source of pain. So is lack of tolerance, and lack of effort to understand. These Vietnamese LGBTQA organizations are incredibly brave to participate in the Tet Parade and say "We won't be invisible any more; we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer AND Vietnamese, we are a part of this community, too."

So I am going to go down to Westminster early in the morning on Saturday to show my support, love, and solidarity.

This passage from an email from one of the LGBTQIA organizers is inspiring: 
Let's counter hate with LOVE! Make heart signs about love, family, community, and unity. March peacefully and look respectfully. Do not counter hate with hate, because they would win. We will smile as they curse at us. They must be suffering a lot if they have nothing better to do than to create pain and suffering for others. We will breathe in deeply and breathe out love and compassion. This will calm us and guide us in confronting hatred. If people hurl things at us, please dodge. Bring an umbrella as a shield, just in case. If the police has a problem with preventing violence, please try your best to run away and not hit back, because if we do, this will be all they need to dismiss us and prevent us from marching next year. We must practice peace to transform prejudices and discrimination. Love and understanding will lead us to touch and change lives. The possible violence is the worst case scenario though. So, let's hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. We'll be the new civil rights movement in Little Saigon. 

(In the midst of this, I hope that the mainstream LGBTQIA community remembers not to scapegoat people of color for the passage of Proposition 8 or for homophobia in general-- racist people are already not-cute, racist queer people are REALLY not-cute... just as homophobic people of color are... you get the point. Hating in general is just not-cute.)


  1. Coming across your blog and reading this makes me regret not attending to show my support for the people brave enough to be visible in that environment.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Anon. Worry not-- there are many opportunities to show support if you keep an ear open for them.