They preached, they yelled, they banged the tables, but ultimately, the five members of the Westminster City Council voted unanimously yesterday to grant the (for now) LGBT-excluding Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California a permit to host the 2014 Tet Festival.
Each member made separate impassioned speeches for inclusion before the vote, but eventually heeded the advice of their city attorney and approved the request.
“This city council has gone on the record to indicate that it does not in any way condone any form of discrimination,” said City Attorney Richard Jones. “It supports the LGBT communities' right to participate in this parade. …Having said that, we are in the unique situation that the event in front of the council this evening is not a city-sponsored event. It's an event proposed by a private organization, and they have the right to exclude whoever they please.”
It may be the most disdained unanimous vote in Westminster's history.
Over 150 people attended the meeting, with approximately two dozen choosing to voice their opinions. Nearly all of the attendees were pro-inclusion, as evidenced by the applause pro-LGBT speakers received and the crickets anti-LGBT speakers endured.
“Last year, the Tet parade felt more like a military coup than a celebration,” said Tolan Nguyen, a U.S. Army veteran who fled Vietnam by boat as a young child and is lesbian, during the public comment period. “The people who organized the parade last year should be ashamed to call themselves community organizers.
“The issue shouldn't be if you're gay, straight or indifferent,” she continued. “It should be about unity, about love, and passion, and acceptance. Live and let live, love and be loved, that is what the parade is all about.”
The night was not without threats of consequences. Though Viet Rainbow of Orange County had mentioned before that they would approach sponsors and participants, their plans if they were excluded were readily apparent tonight. Multiple speakers asked city councilmembers to boycott the parade if LGBT groups were excluded, and representatives from the Democratic Party of Orange County and the OC Labor Federation spoke on the groups behalf.
“If the Tet parade practices exclusion, the Democratic Party will push for people to boycott the event,” said LGBT Caucus Co-Chair Jeff LeTourneau. “…This is so much bigger than this event and this city. The LGBT communities statewide and countrywide are watching. This will not be a repeat of last year, we will not let it happen.”
Some speakers went as far to say that if the Federation were to exclude LGBT participants, that they would face a challenge for the event next year.
“I'm here as a supporter of the Tet parade and the Tet parade organizers,” said Joe Dovinh, former assembly candidate and husband of Garden Grove Councilmember Dina Nguyen. “I'm here for inclusion, I support the Vietnamese heritage, I support the LGBT community. I wouldn't want to be excluded from a parade because I'm Vietnamese, I wouldn't want to be excluded from a parade for any reason. [If LGBT groups are excluded], there will be other groups that will be willing to hold the parade.”
After nearly an hour of comments by 19 pro-LGBT speakers, five speakers to the contrary voiced their opinions.
“You should be listening to the voices and the aspiration of the voters living in your city,” said Thanh Hien Tran “…Their statement is not because they hate or discriminate, but according to them it's not the right time to accept and promote this unprofessional lifestyle.”
Parade Chairman Neil Nguyen offered room for compromise, agreeing to bi-lateral talks with VietROC, with Mayor Tri Ta and Councilmember Sergio Contreras moderating. He also pointed out that, though the Federation's membership voted 21-47-7 to exclude LGBT organizations this year, the year before they had voted 0-61-9.
Not everyone was happy about compromise, however. During the public comment section and comments by the city council, Federation Vice President of External Affairs Ha Son Tran (who was sitting next to me) mumbled angrily to himself. When compromise was mentioned, his grumbling grew audibly more upset.
After the public comments, each city council member made emotional speeches urging the inclusion of LGBT organizations in the event.
Councilmember Diana Carey spoke first and was the most inflamed, pausing at times to calm down.
“Tet is lovely, it's a wonderful celebration. It's absolutely without question one of the best things the community ever does. And you stood up and said that you want to have beautiful and nice things in the parade. Well, there are lots of beautiful people over there,” Carey said, gesturing towards VietROC members.
“Having said that, I took an oath,” she continued. “As egregious as I find it, I have to support that. … Unfortunately tonight, I'm going to have to go against my personal conscience and I'm going to have to vote to have the parade.”
Following four other speeches very similar, and a verbal agreement from both sides that they would work together, the council passed the permit without any further changes.
Oh wait, they did move it to Saturday.