Viet Rainbow at last year’s parade. (photo: VROC-Viet Rainbow of Orange County)
The city of Westminster is throwing a party and everyone is welcome . . . unless you’re gay.
Technically, the Orange County town with a heavy Vietnamese-American population isn’t throwing the party. It is just issuing the permit for the annual Lunar New Year (Tet) parade to be held in February. The city used to pay for the event and, although a few religious groups objected to the guest list in 2010 and dropped out, it ran smoothly through Little Saigon.
But the city turned the popular event over to the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California a couple years ago for financial reasons and the federation doesn’t want any homosexual shenanigans at their festive occasion.
The city council felt compelled by the legal advice it received, and voted unanimously last week to give parade organizers a permit despite the ban on participation by gays. The event is considered private, although the public attends, and the host’s right to discriminate is a constitutional free-speech issue.
Viet Rainbow of Orange County has tried unsuccessfully for more than a year to get the Federation to change its policy. Cathy Lam, spokeswoman of Parents of Rainbow Children, told the Los Angeles Times, “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.”
The ban last year caught a lot of people by surprise. This year, supporters of a more inclusive policy were better prepared, but the outcome was the same. They considered marching separately in their own parade 30 minutes in front of or behind the Tet parade. Or offering to mute their marching presence and leave their rainbow paraphernalia at home.
Those notions were rejected. “We're not going to be part of a legacy that tells the younger generation, the next generation, and even the current generation that it's OK to be separate-but-equal, that being invisible is OK,” Viet Rainbow of OC co-founder Hieu Nguyen told KPCC.
Earlier this year, Orange County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Glass refused to grant an injunction to make the organizers let the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations march. Gay-rights advocates lost similar battles in New York and Boston over St. Patrick's Day parades.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1995 that Boston parade organizers could discriminate against gays, Justice David Souter wrote the opinion: “The issue . . . is whether Massachusetts may require private citizens who organize a parade to include among the marchers a group imparting a message the organizers do not wish to convey.’