Tomorrow, February 13, 2010, a contingent of Vietnamese American LGBTQ groups will participate in the Westminster’s Tet Parade and Lunar New Year festival for the very first time. (Westminster, in Southern California’s Orange County, is home to the largest Vietnamese American community in the U.S.) Next Sunday, February, 21, 2010, a contingent of LGBTQ Asian Americans will march in New York City’s Lunar New Year parade for the first time in that city, too.
It’s big news. History in the making. Happy Year of the Tiger! I can’t wait.
But organizers in Westminster are asking people to come out and support their participation in the parade because of the possibility of protests. Word is that some Vietnamese churches have planned to boycott the parade entirely if the LGBTQ contingent shows up–and they will.
Westminster city councilperson Andy Quach even wrote a letter announcing his personal opposition to queer Vietnamese groups’ inclusion in the parade, calling it “unfortunate,” but unavoidable. His letter, originally written in Vietnamese, said:
As an individual, I protest the participation of this group in the traditional and full-of-joy celebration of the Vietnamese people. But as officials of the organizational committee in the city of Westminster, we can not discriminate any individual based on his/her political view, religion, sexual or personal preferences. This is the limitation of the law that we all have to obey.
Must have been such a bummer for Councilman Quach to find out that people have civil rights. Must be such a shock to find out that there are queer Vietnamese people living in his hetero bubble. Must be such an affront to realize that perhaps he and his bigoted remarks don’t fully reflect the views of his constituency.
But, goodness, the issue is so much bigger than just these parades and the fierce, courageous people who refuse to be pushed to the sidelines and refuse to be silenced by fear. And isn’t that always the case when it comes to race, religion, and sexuality?
Because in recent weeks, Asian American evangelicals in particular have gotten a bit of press in mainstream media for their outspoken support of Prop 8 and opposition to marriage equality. See: The New York Times’ treatment of Chinese Christian evangelical churches in California. See also: The Huffington Post taking great delight in sharing Hong Kong immigrant and Prop 8 backer Hak-Shing William Tam’s passionate and totally hateful anti-gay hate speech.
The whole thing leaves an awful taste in my mouth. It’s of great concern to me that Asian American evangelicals are becoming the face of homophobia and anti-equality measures in California.
I actually saw Hak-Shing William Tam speak at a public debate just before the elections in 2008, and that man troubled me. He compared homosexuality to pedophilia and necrophilia and every other sexual perversion, and it activated so many emotions in me: horror, disgust and pity, for sure. But also a deep sense of embarrassment and unease. Because Asian Americans are so marginalized in mainstream American culture, when an Asian American public figure goes national, they are automatically assumed to speak for all of us.
When I see Hak-Shing William Tam I want to say so many things. Well, first of all, I want to tell him to sit down because he has a lot of work to do on himself and in his community before he opens his mouth anymore.
But I also want to say that I have friends who are Asian American, who are Christian, and who support marriage equality and the full humanity of queer people. And for them, there is no contradiction or internal conflict. These people exist, and they cannot be made invisible. I also have friends and family who are Asian American and queer, and their sexuality and Asian American identities coexist. These people exist, living and loving within our community–and they cannot be made invisible.
But as much as I disagree with him, I cannot denounce him completely. His views are not foreign to me. I’ve heard them circulated in whispers and angry retorts among elders in my community. Some Asian Americans do hold similar beliefs. The idea that queerness is something “learned,” or “acquired” in America by second-generation Asian Americans is totally untrue, but also very real for many people. The belief that sure, there may have been some queer Asians they knew in their day, but homosexuality is a thing so immoral and perverse that they cannot be considered fully human anyway–I’ve heard that one before too. I know of people who feel this way. Some of them are Asian American.
We have plenty of work to do in our communities. And part of me wants to send Hak-Shing William Tam to the wolves to be eaten alive by people who call him backwards and ignorant. But I get very angry about mainstream press using easy targets like him to promote the stereotype that people of color are inherently homophobic. The whole thing makes me want to scream. Get off our backs, white folks!
Especially when there are groups like API Equality doing the hard work of engaging in dialogue with other Asian Americans and developing strategies to build an Asian American movement for justice. Especially when there are Asian Americans like Jonipher Kwong and Samuel Chu who work with California Faith for Equality to form partnerships and organize faith groups of color around marriage equality. You ever tried calling them up, New York Times?
It’s impossible to completely ignore or denounce voices like Hak-Shing William Tam, or Councilperson Andy Quach. Their opinions are misguided and bigoted, but they’re not the whole story.
So. Folks, head to Westminster tomorrow. People are meeting at 9am at Bolsa and Magnolia. Let your love shine. And, in the words of an organizer with the Partnership of Vietnamese LGBT Organizations who’s getting ready for tomorrow’s parade:
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.
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.
image source: grace
Thanks for the tip, Alice!