Karen Ocamb

API Equality Celebrates Chinese Lunar New Year

Filed By Karen Ocamb | February 03, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: API Equality, Chinese Lunar New Year, Doreena Wong, LGBT politics, Marshall Wong, No On 8, Prop 8

The 10th annual Golden Dragon Parade through Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles is one of the most colorful celebrations in a city renown for its colorful creativity.

And for the fourth year in a row, API Equality participated in the Chinese Lunar New Year parade Jan. 31 - this year with a contingent of about 200 participants, some joining in from the approximately 110,000 parade-watchers on the sideline.

Celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year is a 110-year tradition, according to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, which produced the parade - which featured more than 100 floats and marching bands down Broadway and Hill Street to a central stage in Central Plaza. This is the Year of the Ox - year 4707 on the Chinese calendar.

Pictures and lots more after the jump.

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce says:

"The day of the Lunar New Year is the most celebrated holiday of the year for nearly 1.5 million persons of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese decent in Southern California. It is celebrated with colorful festivals, parades, and most importantly, large family gatherings. It is also a time when ancestors are fondly remembered and families give thanks for their blessings. Red packets of money ("Lai See" or "Hung Bao") and firecrackers add fun and excitement to the Chinese New Year celebration."

There was some slight confusion leading up to the parade. Originally API Equality-LA/Asians & Pacific Islanders for Marriage Equalityhad planned to have famous out documentarian Arthur Dong (whose latest film is Hollywood Chinese) and his husband Young Gee and their son Reed lead the API Equality contingent in a trussed-up Just Married convertible with an API lesbian couple. But at the last minute, API Equality had to change their plans.

Here's the official explanation from the group:

"We had hoped that this year our unit would be led by two recently married couples, one lesbian and one gay in decorated convertibles. Unfortunately, we were told by the organizers that this would constitute a political message in violation of parade rules. Although we are disappointed by this decision, we will still carry the colors of the rainbow flag, organizational banners, streamers, and handheld drums in a colorful display of diversity, inclusion, and equality for all members of the Asian Pacific American community. Because of restrictions on political statements we ask that marchers not bring signs, T-shirts, or other symbols that could jeopardize our participation in future parades. Community-based organizations are highly encouraged to bring your own organizational banners to march with in the parade and demonstrate your group's support for the cause."

Nakhone Milk Keodara, founder of the Gays United Network, called for a protest on his Facebook page:

"Dear Friends,

I am so incensed I can barely write this email. Apparently, the Parade Organizers of the Chinese Lunar New Year had the audacity to ban API-Equality LA from having newlywed gay/lesbian couples lead its contingent in the parade due to some fucked-up and cooked-up controversy over losing its parade license. Bullshit. We, the Gays United Network, are not down with that sitting in the back of the bus. API Equality-LA can but we won't. I am calling on all that are available to come down to the parade with your husbands and wifes and bring signs that indicate that you're newly-weds and T-Shirts. We're going to show the Chinese-American community that this shit is not acceptable and we won't be silenced. Please pass this on to all your friends. See below for more info on the parade.

In solidarity,
Nakhone Keodara
Gays United Network

But Keodara was quickly talked down. Here's an email request from Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong:

"Dear Nakhone:

I appreciate your energy and passion around this issue. It's good to be reminded that we are all on the same team here. I just wanted to add a few of my thoughts, as a member of the Steering Committee for API Equality-LA and Chair of the Faith Committee as to why it might be best for us to serve as "silent witnesses" by marching in the parade as openly LGBT API people rather than as protesters on the side or drawing media attention to this event.

1. API people get turned off easily by "in-your-face" confrontations. This is our fourth year marching in this parade and we haven't had any problems so far. By seeing peace-full API marchers holding up signs in Chinese that say "Love" and "Community," we are sending a subtle, yet powerful message about equality and being a part of the Chinese community. Gay and lesbian couples can come and participate...we just don't want it to be overtly political (for reason #2 below).

2. The whole parade is a celebration of the New Year. No political group -- from Falun Gong or "Free Tibet" -- are allowed to participate. We are not being singled out, it's just their guidelines to make sure we stay in a celebrative tone of ringing in the New Year together as a community.

3. We don't want to jeopardize future participation because this parade has worked for us so far as a public education tool. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" and a more convincing argument for me is, if it's working, let's do more of it! Because of the work APIELA has done in the past 3 years, we have been able to turn the API community around from being strongly on the "YES on 22" side, to voting "NO on 8" by a slim majority. We still have work to do, and we have multiples strategies for how to go about doing it. There is, I believe, a time and place for everything. A time to protest and a time to restrain from protesting. What may work in the Euro-American community might not work for the African-American community, Latin@ community, and certainly not the the API community. We just have to be mindful of which strategy to use at which time.

I will be marching tomorrow, wearing my clergy collar and the "California Faith for Equality" sign. For me, this will speak volumes as to the support of a Christian minister for queer rights. It's the kind of public education the Chinese community needs.

Thank you for your reconsideration about protesting, and again, I hope you can join us in the parade tomorrow as peaceful participants and celebrants -- letting our witness speak for itself and causing everyone to save face. We have free red APIELA T-Shirts to give to marchers and we will be happy to provide all the banners and signage in Chinese.

Gung Hee Fat Choy,
Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong"

The march went on without a hitch and turned into a better-than-expected success. Here's API Equality co-chair Marshall Wong's account:

"We were hoping for a turn-out of 100 supporters. Instead nearly 200 people joined us. It was our most successful mobilization effort ever.

In addition to API LGBT organizations, a number of other non-LGBT Asian organizations were represented, including the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Association, the Organization of Chinese Americans, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and Little Tokyo Service Center. Members of marriage equality organizations, such as FAIR, Equal Root Coalition, Love, Honor and Cherish, and Roots of Equality also joined the contingent.

During the parade, there were so many little interesting tidbits that were signs of incremental progress:

  • We saw several people who were spectators on the parade sidewalks wearing our red API Equality-LA T-shirts. I don't know who they were or how they acquired them, but they were present and cheering us on.

  • I personally didn't witness this, but some people who marched reported that some spectators actually rushed from their places on the sidewalks and spontaneously joined our contingent.

  • After we reached the parade endpoint, we gathered on a street corner to collect little Chinese drums, swaths of cloth that formed a huge rainbow flag, and other materials. A float passed by with Chinese beauty pageant contestants wearing traditional "cheong-sam" dresses. All of a sudden, one of them shouted at us, "No on Prop 8!" We cheered back.

These are the details that frequently get lost in the documentation of social change movements. But they demonstrate the small acts of courage and agency that cumulatively shape the future.

After the parade, a hundred marriage equality supporters gathered for a Chinese banquet. As co-chair of API Equality-LA, I addressed the crowd, saying, "You have all chosen to open the new Lunar New Year with us today, marching for justice, feasting, and toasting. It's been a great day. But we also ask each of you to make a commitment during the coming year. It is said that the Ox is thought to be the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. Fortitude and hard work describe exactly what we need for the battle before us. Today we took a short stroll through Chinatown. Join us on this long march to full equality. It may be the journey of a lifetime."

Marshall's co-chair, Doreena Wong, who is also on the Core Committee for Asian
American Queer Women Activists (a volunteer network of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender individuals) and wife of Lambda Legal's Jenny Pizer, added:

"We were ecstatic about the wonderful turnout from our community and allies, and the overwhelming support we felt from the crowd.
And we believe that our presence in the parade sent a powerful message of LGBT pride, diversity and inclusion to the thousands of spectators lining the route and to the larger community -- our visibility has a positive, cumulative effect that helps to dispel myths and misconceptions of who we are."

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