Escalating their opposition to gay and lesbian Vietnamese participating in the Tet Parade in Westminster, a group of Viet religious leaders and activists assert they will boycott the event, and several Catholic organizations have pulled out.
At a press conference Thursday morning, the Vietnamese group Hội Đồng Liên Tôn (Interfaith Council), who had planned to march in the parade, announced that they’re withdrawing.
The head of the group, Lutheran minister Tran Thanh Van, said, “We cannot participate if they (Vietnamese GLBT) are in the procession.” Rev. Tran said the Interfaith Council already sent in their withdrawal letter.
The Catholic representative on the council, Rev. Si Nguyen, said that he would be willing to acknowledge gay people, but not during Tet.
Said he, “During Tet, we don’t bring up ugly matters, anything unseemly in the family we hide it away, we only bring out what’s good.” He calls on “all the faithful” to stay away from Bolsa Avenue during the parade.
Garden Grove Councilmember Dina Nguyen attended the press conference, and spoke up. She said, “I don’t believe in homosexuality” (in Vietnamese: “Tôi không tin vào chuyện đồng tình [sic] luyến ái”). She didn’t explain any more about what she meant by that.
Nguyen also said that next year, she would “suggest to the City of Westminster to respect Vietnamese tradition.”
Which is something of a puzzler, because traditionally, Vietnamese may have misconceptions about gays, but they don’t exactly discriminate.
The most common misconception is that being gay is an illness. This mistaken belief showed itself at the Interfaith Council press conference through the Caodai representative Pham Van Kham, who said, “We are very sad to see our children fall victim to it” – referring to the supposed gay disease.
Other than such misconceptions, homophobia is new to Vietnam, and the country’s main religion Buddhism never made an issue out of homosexuality.
Here’s a comparison: The U.S., for example, used to have laws criminalizing gay sex, upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick (see summary here).
Ancient Vietnamese laws, however, never criminalized homosexual behavior, even as it did have a long list of sexual crimes – a fact noted by scholars Nguyen Ngoc Huy and Ta Van Tai in vol. 1 of their massive 3-volume work “The Lê Code: Law in Traditional Vietnam.” (The late Nguyen Ngoc Huy was a legal scholar, former dean of the University of Can Tho Faculty of Law, and a leader of Tan Dai Viet, one of the top political parties of South Vietnam. He also participated as a member of the South Vietnamese delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. He came to the US after the war and taught at Harvard Law School.)
Meanwhile, the LGBT groups that are in the parade are not pulling out. If anything, they’re more determined. On Facebook, someone has put up an invitation for the “Viet LGBT Contingent” to join the march. It has, however, so far drawn only 22 yes’s.
The four participating groups are: Sống Thật Radio; Ô-Môi; Gay Vietnamese Alliance; and the Vietnamese Lesbian and Bisexual Women Network and Friends.