WESTMINSTER — A Southern California city is gearing up for a heated debate Wednesday over a Vietnamese new year’s parade that would exclude the community’s gay and lesbian residents.
Gay rights advocates are planning to ask the Westminster City Council to deny a permit for the 2014 Tet parade to organizers who say they won’t let Viet Rainbow of Orange County march in the event that runs through the heart of Little Saigon.
Councilmembers have urged the group and the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California to reach a compromise. But assistant city attorney Christian Bettenhausen has said the Orange County city can’t legally deny a permit because councilmembers disagree with a parade’s message, since a parade, like a demonstration, is protected free speech.
“Our hands are tied,” said Councilman Sergio Contreras. “We’re trying to get them to sit down and talk.”
Messages left for Federation contact Neil Nguyen were not returned.
The debate has led other gay rights advocates such as GLAAD to speak out in support of Viet Rainbow, which was formed earlier this year after gay and lesbian community members were told they could not participate in the 2013 parade, sued and lost.
Previously, when the city ran the parade, Vietnamese gay and lesbian community members marched without a problem, said Hieu Nguyen, Viet Rainbow’s co-chair.
If the city grants the permit, Hieu Nguyen said he hopes elected officials will sit out the event.
Parade organizers have said gay community members can march before or after the event, Hieu Nguyen said, but the group wants inclusion in the region’s largest Vietnamese immigrant enclave, not a separate celebration.
“We want both our Vietnamese American identity and our LGBT identity to be represented,” Hieu Nguyen said.