An Open Letter to Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee [UPDATED]

“Gays and lesbians march with several groups in the 2010 Westminster Tet Parade. This year, the city is not sponsoring the parade, and organizers are excluding a gay and lesbian coalition from the Sunday event.” Photo by Mindy Schauer for the Orange County Register.

[UPDATE: Well, folks, I’m sad to say that the 2013 Tet Parade proceeded without the participation of the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations. I very much appreciate Tricycle: The Buddhist Review giving this letter and the cause a push at their blog. To see other letters of support, you can download a full dossier here.]

Last night, one of our remarkable students in the Buddhist Chaplaincy Department at University of the West asked for my help, and I decided to give it to what seems to me a very important cause.

Taking my lead from three colleagues at the Claremont School of Theology’s Center for Gender, Sexuality and Religion, I composed a letter to Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee in response to the committee denying the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations’ request to march in the 2013 Tet Parade. (You can read more about what’s happening in the pages of the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times.)

Here’s what I wrote last night (before learning that the committee had denied the request):

5 February 2013

To Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee:

I write today calling upon you to please honor the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations’ request to march in the 2013 Tet Parade, as they have in the past.

I appeal to you as a lay Buddhist minister and professor of spiritual care and counseling. While I recognize that not all Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, most every religion or worldview has some variation of the “Golden Rule.” Actually, many even go a step further than simply “treat others as you would like to be treated,” as the Buddha himself did when he said, “As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart:  Above, below, and all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate.” As I see it, the controversy over the decision to include the Partnership in the 2013 Tet Parade offers the whole Orange Community—but in particular your committee—the opportunity to reflect meaningfully on the questions “Are we treating others as we would like to be treated?” and “Are we cultivating limitless hearts for all beings—not just all Buddhists or all Catholics or all of our own small, like-minded communities, but all beings?”

The FBI’s most recent release of hate crime statistics (from 2011) shows a startling increase in hate crimes against the LGBT community. In fact, hate crimes based on sexual orientation now constitute the second most frequent type of hate crimes (behind only hate crimes based on race).[i] It is worth noting, however, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has, that “most hate crimes are never reported to police and those that are typically are not categorized as hate crimes by local jurisdictions.”[ii] (The FBI also does not yet track hate crimes based on gender identity or gender, though they will have to soon under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.[iii]) Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign notes that, like racial and ethnically motivated hate crimes, hate crimes against the LGBT community “are more frequently committed against persons than property.”[iv] Indeed, even before the rise in hate crimes, 54% of LGBT people expressed concern about being the victim of a hate crime, with 20% of gay men and 27% of lesbians saying that were “extremely concerned” (emphasis added).[v]

Orange County reflects much of what we’re seeing nationally: this past August, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that the Orange Country Human Relations Commission, in their annual report, found a 14% increase in all reported hate crimes – an “upswing” after “years of decline.”[vi] Though hate crimes against African-Americans in Orange County saw the most alarming rise, the report also showed a rise in hate crimes against the LGBT community, “reversing a four-year downward trend.”[vii]

Clinical and forensic research by people like UCLA psychologist Edward Dunbar has done much to teach us about what influences hate crime offenders, and factors might include such things as upbringing and levels of pathology.[viii] In addition, University of Massachusetts-Amherst psychologist Ervin Staub has indicated that a climate in which others are excluded or marginalized or made scapegoats for larger problems “may give [hate crime offenders] permission to have and express [aggressive and antisocial] feelings… People who have had painful experiences and no opportunities to heal tend to be more hostile in general, and they more easily channel their hostility toward groups the society is also against.”[ix] It is no real surprise, then, that the National Institute of Justice has found that a full one-quarter of all hate crime offenders “commit hate crimes to protect their neighborhood from perceived outsiders.”[x]

From this, it seems clear that by including the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations in the 2013 Tet Parade, your committee would, among other things, certainly be sending a loud and clear message that creating a safe neighborhood for all in Little Saigon is a priority. It seems to me that excluding them would do nothing to help protect some of your community’s already very vulnerable brothers and sisters, and it might even intensify a climate in which they are susceptible to violence as it is.

Like my colleagues at the Claremont School of Theology, I wish to acknowledge the complex social, political and cultural issues that surround the full inclusion of the Partnership in the Tet parade. However, I do believe strongly that it is incumbent upon your committee to include the Partnership in the 2013 Tet Parade for reasons of morality and civic responsibility. Please honor the Partnership’s request to march in the 2013 Tet Parade, and show us all what it looks like to treat others as you would like to be treated. In doing so, I believe it will not only benefit others in terms of both safety and dignity, but that you will bring immeasurable benefit to yourselves as well by having done something significant to cultivate your limitless hearts for all beings.

With respect and gratitude,

Rev. Danny Fisher, M.Div., D.B.S.
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Department, University of the West


[v] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.