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LGBT community sidelined from Tet parade but undeterred

February 10, 2013 |  7:33 pm

Photo: Tolan Ngyen holds a sign in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups who were not allowed to march in the Tet parade sponsored by the Union of the Vietnamese Student Association of Southern California in Westminster on Sunday. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

They stood on the sidelines near the stage, waving wildly beneath six giant hearts, with signs shouting out their love.

LGBT members told to "sacrifice" and stay out of the Tet parade in Westminster on Sunday let their passion speak for their presence. They shared rainbow leis with supporters. They reached out to embrace those who ran up to offer support.

Organizers of the Lunar New Year event would not let them march. And their allies, such as the Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California, found out the day before the event that they couldn't let the gay organizations join their entries as guests. 

"In the end, it didn't matter. We were so overwhelmed by the reaction of the people," said Natalie Newton, spokeswoman for the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations, which united 250 of its supporters to attend. "We had politicians popping out of their cars to shake our hands. We had ordinary people coming by to shake our hands. We didn't expect any of it. But we were visible. Everyone knew who we were."

Khai Dao, a columnist and activist from Westminster at the parade, said "I absolutely want LGBT involvement" in the holiday gathering. We respect everybody's lifestyle choice. If organizers raise money from the community, then the event should be for everyone in the community."

The Rancho Alamitos Vaqueros marching band, from Garden Grove, performed a special number for the LGBT groups. Children waved South Vietnamese flags, clapping along. With a spot of rain, the turnout this year in Little Saigon proved a few thousand smaller than the usual 10,000 spectators, according to participants.

That's partly because the event fell on the first day of the Lunar New Year, a time, like Christmas morning, when folks may be at home celebrating with family.

Still, dozens of floats rolled by carrying elected officials from the host city, Westminster, along with neighboring Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana. Local banks, tae kwon do studios, Catholic and Buddhist worshippers greeted the crowd from their perch in convertibles or as they strolled along Bolsa Avenue.

Loan Anh Pham, of the Trung Duong Vietnamese language school, marched with students, fellow teachers and parents -- all 150 of them wearing traditional ao dai dress and headress. Some of her pupils wore mini-versions of the uniforms of South Vietnamese military veterans. "This is a time to share our stories -- those stories of bravery and courage," she said. "The more people who are here, the more we can spread our message."

Grandparents videotaped the sights, some juggling camera equipment and their cellphones, describing the scene to relatives in San Jose and Vietnam. Lion dancers posed for photos snapped from iPads, while women clutched plaid umbrellas.

Ear-splitting fireworks popped up at every corner of Little Saigon as merchants chased out evil spirits for the Lunar New Year, fitting background noise for the parade.

"I live just a block away and woke up to the sounds of people practicing," said Erin McCoy, a horticulturist who brought her boxer, Nica, to the festivities. "This reunion of culture, this day, is very necessary. An understanding of all our backgrounds should be shared in society."

Across a barricaded aisle, Newton stayed hopeful. "The energy created through our activism will help our community. It's up to the LGBT groups to find a way to continue this momentum."

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-- Anh Do in Westminster

Twitter: @newsterrier

Photo: Tolan Ngyen holds a sign Sunday in Westminster in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups who were not allowed to march in the Tet parade. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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