We are family, too: Vietnamese gays and lesbians join San Jose's Tet parade



By Jessie Mangaliman

Mercury News

Posted: 02/08/2009 05:53:15 PM PST

Dressed in a form-fitted black tuxedo, holding a bridal bouquet of white roses specked with yellow and red orchids, Annie Nguyen beamed, surrounded by men in colorful traditional Vietnamese wedding attire.

For the 50-year-old factory supervisor and mother of five, the short march in downtown San Jose's 12th annual Vietnamese Spring Festival and Parade marked a personal milestone.

Two years ago, after decades of being in the closet, the San Jose woman came out to her husband and children. On Sunday, standing behind a sign in Vietnamese and English that said, "Love and support ALL of your children," Nguyen made a public declaration and appeal:

"You could lead two lives: one out, one hidden. But you'll not be part of your family. Parents should accept their children."

Nguyen was one of 40 Vietnamese gays and lesbians from the Bay Area and other parts of California who marched during the traditional annual celebration of Tet, the lunar new year. It was only the second time in the parade's history that gays and lesbians marched openly and the first time that families joined them. For Vietnamese gay and lesbian groups, the event signaled a new kind of visibility and openness in a culture that traditionally views homosexuality as shameful and something to hide.

Nguyen's son Kevin Pham stood nearby.

"I did a double take when I saw her," Pham, 21, said. "I'm getting adjusted to the idea. I'm glad for her that she is happy."

The Tet parade is the most mainstream of occasions. On Sunday, beauty queens and City Council members rode in restored antique cars, as marching bands blared and marchers waved American and South Vietnamese flags. Hundreds of people cheered along the five-block parade route on Market Street.


The gay and lesbian Vietnamese group that marched with Nguyen was also led by a flag bearer, who waved the rainbow flag.


"Gay or straight, we're part of families," said Vuong Nguyen, who is not related to Annie Nguyen. "We would like to come out with pride and lead our lives in the open."


For fear of alienating families, very few people marched last year, said Vuong Nguyen, 66, one of the founders of Song That, a Vietnamese gay and lesbian radio program on San Jose's KSJX-AM (1500).


Many family members and heterosexual allies who marched Sunday declared their support for same-sex marriage.


"We have to recognize them as part of our society," said Tammy Hong, who is straight and married but who dressed up in a black tuxedo and posed for the parade as Annie Nguyen's same-sex partner. "I'm here because of Prop 8. and because I believe in equal rights," said Hong, a friend of Nguyen.

Gay rights supporters are asking the courts to overturn Proposition 8, the narrowly approved November ballot initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California.


Thanh Do, co-chair of the Gay Vietnamese Alliance, a support group in San Jose and Orange County, said the call for inclusion and family acceptance at Sunday's parade has a message for a new generation of Vietnamese gays and lesbians.


"You may have not have known it, but we've always been part of your community," Do said. "We're in your life. We hope that message will make it easier for young kids coming out."


For most of her life, Annie Nguyen kept her sexuality hidden. In Vietnamese and many Asian cultures, she said, there is a strong held tradition that women should marry and have children.


Nguyen said she followed that path, until she fell in love with another woman. She has since separated from her husband but found support from her children. But not all her relatives are happy about her decision to come out, she said.


"I've been denying myself, my feelings," she said, looking down to inspect the bouquet she was holding. "I just had enough."