After multiple votes for exclusion and inclusion, city council meetings, impassioned speeches, private meetings, lawsuits, boycotts, and a several-hour delay, Viet Rainbow of Orange County (VROC), the non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the Vietnamese LGBT community, successfully marched in the Orange County Tet parade.
"We feel great," Hieu Nguyen said afterwards. "There's a sense relief. Everyone's fears were unfounded. We were able to show that we are a part of the Vietnamese American community and that we can't be denied."
Despite the rocky lead up to the parade, the approximately 100 hundred members and supporters of VROC were met with, well, support from organizers, other participating groups, and spectators. Before marching began, Westminster City Councilmember Diana Carey visited the group, giving them a pep talk and calling them "beautiful." As the group prepared to march, camo-donning organizers came up to Hieu smiling and offering hand shakes. Cameras and print and broadcast journalist flanked VROC as they made their way down Bolsa, occasionally pulling away a marcher to interview.
Only one person in the crowd booed, but he was vastly out numbered by hundreds of spectators waving miniature rainbow flags. (He also wore an all-denim Canadian tuxedo from the 1980s and made everyone around him look uncomfortable.)
"The parade has grown. There's definitely more support," said Thanh Do, San Jose resident and co-chair of the Gay Vietnamese Alliance. Do filed the original application for LGBTQ groups to march in the Tet parade four years ago, when the city organized the parade. "They are fewer boos now. The past four years have been great for discussion."
The parade finished, there was an air of triumph but also an air of normalcy, as if this shouldn't have been such a big deal all along. VROC gathered on the sidewalk, took pictures and started to figure out how they would clean up quickly so they could all go eat at Pho Thanh. Family and friends visited VROC to congratulate them and to celebrate as the group collected loaned ties and straw hats.
"Having families united and the community together for the Tet celebration is an ancient tradition," said Garden Grove Unified School District Trustee Bao Nguyen. Last year, he spoke passionately for the inclusion of LGBT groups, eventually convincing the other members of the board of trustees to not provide a school bus to the parade. "It's also an American value to have our families together. The LGBT inclusion in the Tet parade is an auspicious sign of progress for Orange County."