Monday, February 22, 2010

Grabbing the tiger's tail

Originally posted on DC Agenda

We are discriminated against for who we happen to be — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

For LGBT of color, it is not uncommon to face discrimination for looking and, at times, sounding different. This double dose of societal bigotry is compounded by the homophobia they suffer within their own communities.

It is therefore groundbreaking that during New York City’s Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade yesterday, a 300-strong contingent of queer Asian Pacific Islanders was part of the festivities. Wearing rainbow bandannas, waving versions of the fish and the phoenix (traditional Chinese symbols for prosperity and renewal) and marching a costumed tiger with its own rainbow armbands, the group was not only supported by LGBT organizations but by prominent community and city leaders as well. The group explains why they are marching here:

Homophobia and discrimination continue to divide Asian American families and communities. Lunar New Year is a time when families come together to strengthen ties to our communities. This year, we are joining the Lunar New Year Parade to challenge homophobia and to honor all of the different kinds of families in our community.

They were there to educate the Chinese and wider Asian Pacific Islander communities that we are their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers. That there is no losing “face” in acknowledging — and even being proud of — a queer family member. That we can be fully ourselves while fulfilling our responsibilities to the family and the community. Their participation in the parade shows recent immigrants and those who cling to old ideas that we live in a democratic and pluralistic country where all are equal and where there is separation of church and state. Their presence gave hope to closeted and recently arrived Asian newcomers. They empowered and they were empowered.

While the inclusion of an LGBT group didn’t cause much controversy in New York City’s Lunar New Year parade, the same could not be said in the Westminster Vietnamese Tet Parade in California a week earlier. Little Saigon is located in Westminster and is home to the nation’s largest Vietnamese immigrant community. Several LGBT groups had registered to participate in the community’s Lunar New Year parade and several religious groups, including the Vietnamese Interfaith Council of America, which includes Christian and Buddhist religious leaders, immediately protested. Several Roman Catholic organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and 50 members of the Vietnamese Martyrs Council, withdrew from the parade. However, Greg Johnson, the director of Westminster’s Department of Community Services & Recreation, said that only Catholic groups pulled out of the parade. More importantly, he stressed that the city cannot and should not discriminate against any one group based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

Hats off to the courageous women and men who grabbed the tiger by the tail, came out loud and proud as LGBT and Asian, and challenged conservative Asian Pacific Islander communities to reconsider their antiquated ideas about us and our families. Thank goodness for the freedoms we have in this country. Freedoms that many immigrants did not have in their native countries and now enjoy. Freedoms which are ours as well — a reality which they have to accept and respect.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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