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Count me among those who have been impressed by Garden Grove Unified School District Board Member Bao Nguyen over the past few years. Disregarding any political cost, he spearheaded the drive to get his district to refuse to participate in the upcoming Tet Parade if that meant supporting discrimination against LGBT groups. Moreover, he did it in a manner keeping with the culture of Little Saigon.
His speech before the school board at its meeting Tuesday night:
When my mother was eight months pregnant, carrying me in her womb, she escaped Vietnam in the dark of the night, through an underground passageway. She was an illegal emigrant, while I was a stowaway. Such an act was a crime punishable by death. So, why take such a risk? Because her homeland was not a place that valued the freedom to differ from how life was defined by others. That was a life marked with fear. However, immense hope led us here from afar, and that hope is alive and well with the freedoms that are protected by the constitution of our great nation and that of our great state of California, my homeland. To honor all the sacrifices made for me, I stand for the freedom to define life for oneself and for the freedom to live without fear.
Like a family, a community is inherently diverse, while the values of unity and seeking understanding holds us together. Acknowledging our differences and being able to celebrate together distinguishes my homeland from my mother’s homeland. But I will not forget where I came from. Remembering, a free and democratic society is not necessarily defined by a majority, but defined by how one allows others the same liberties one wishes for oneself. True liberty is marked with such moral values as tolerance, compassion, and acceptance.
At its heart, Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration, is a gathering of the whole family that extends into the community. It is a time to set the tone for the coming year with formal gestures of mutual respect, abundance, and cheerfulness. So, I’d like to extend my very best wishes to all our families, without leaving anyone out – Happy Tet!
I can’t improve on that in either content or tone. To its great credit, the Garden Grove School Board agreed: no public school bus and no driver paid with public funds in the Tet parade if it discriminates against LGBT Vietnamese just because it has the power to do so. My friend Jeff LeTourneau, fabled OC GLBT activist, reports this from the meeting:
VICTORY!!!!!! GG School Board will only participate in TET parade if lgbt group is welcome!! Great work Bao and the lgbt organizing committee. Social justice prevails!
Vern has reported that LGBT groups are going to “crash the party” anyway on Sunday; more on that, I expect, in comments below. Good — it’s always nice to have a little old-fashioned civil disobedience in favor of civil rights to uphold our constitutional values and bright up our winter! If the organizing committee has any sense, it will back off of its policy before an upcoming defeat becomes a humiliation. Bao Nguyen and others have already shown that the public face of the Vietnamese community need not be one of repression of minorities; even if the organizing committee wins this battle, it loses ground in the war.
From a purely partisan viewpoint, I suppose that I should root for the organizing committee of the Tet Parade to act like damn fools and dig in their heels, bringing the GLBT community and its battle for equality even closer to my Democratic Party. But — I find I can’t do that. I’m willing to lose a little of the advantage that supporting GLBT equality in order to see the issue put to rest. It may be sacrificing some good politics, but I’m happy to welcome the Republican Party in Little Saigon and the rest of Orange County into the 21st century. We’ll find some other things to disagree about, I’m sure, that don’t require denying the essential equality of our brothers and sisters.
The Tet parade take’s place on Sunday. We’ll know soon if the OCGOP has the sense to take the right side in this battle — or if it thinks that stoking hatred based on sexual orientation is worth reaping irrelevancy.