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LGBTQ groups can鈥檛 march in Vancouver鈥檚 Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

Applicants told decision based on parade鈥檚 desire to distance itself from political activism

Progressive and LGBTQ+ groups say they鈥檝e been excluded from Vancouver鈥檚 Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown this weekend, with one of their representatives saying they were told it was because of a ban on 鈥減olitical activism.鈥

Chinatown Together, organized by community activist Melody Ma, and LGBTQ+ group Lunar New Year For All say their applications to march in the Spring Festival Parade on Sunday were rejected by the committee that runs the event.

The parade marks the year of the dragon, which starts on Saturday.

Ma posted a letter on social media that she says came from the parade鈥檚 organizers, telling her that approval of Chinatown Together鈥檚 participation had been rescinded because 鈥減olitical activism finds no place within the spirit of the event.鈥

The letter dated Feb. 3 says the parade is 鈥渄edicated to a sense of unity鈥 and is intentionally distanced from religious or political affiliations.

But Pearl Wong, co-organizer of Lunar New Year For All, says they don鈥檛 consider themselves political, and no reason for their exclusion was given in the letter they received.

鈥淥ur thought process was, hey, it would be really cool if we could form a group that is dedicated for queer and trans folks of Asian descent,鈥 Wong said.

鈥淲e don鈥檛 really understand why it has to be this hard, because I don鈥檛 think it鈥檚 very hard to be inclusive and welcoming.鈥

Wong, who is from New York, said Manhattan鈥檚 Chinatown parade had incorporated LGBTQ+ members since 2010.

The Chinatown Spring Festival鈥檚 organizing committee issued a response late Thursday, saying it is 鈥渃ommitted to upholding the tradition of promoting community, collaboration and tolerance across cultures.鈥

鈥淲e are also committed to ensuring that the parade is a safe and inclusive event for all participants and spectators,鈥 it said in a statement.

鈥淭he committee will make the decision to accept or reject parade team applications based on these criteria.鈥

Ma is a vocal critic of gentrification in Chinatown, opposing projects such as a residential tower at 105 Keefer Street, which was approved by Vancouver鈥檚 permit board last June after years of dispute.

But she said none of the group鈥檚 banners on Sunday would have mentioned gentrification or 105 Keefer Street, in accordance with parade rules.

鈥淲e decided to participate in the Lunar New Year parade despite the fact the organizers were pro-Chinatown gentrification, because we wanted to put that all aside,鈥 Ma said. 鈥淔or this, the largest celebration of Chinatown, we鈥檙e going to put all these political differences aside and participate in this together.鈥

鈥淯nfortunately,鈥 she added, 鈥渨hat鈥檚 ironic is that by rejecting and citing political activism 鈥 whatever that means to them in this case 鈥 they are inherently politicizing the event and the decision.鈥

The parade is organized by a consortium of six organizations 鈥 the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver, the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, the Chinese Freemasons Vancouver Branch, the Shon Yee Benevolent Association of Canada and social service agency SUCCESS.

SUCCESS said in a written response that it isn鈥檛 the lead organizer of the parade and isn鈥檛 involved with operational decisions.

The letter posted by Ma on social media says the festival鈥檚 organizing committee had 鈥渟teadfastly adhered鈥 to its principles for decades, 鈥渆nsuring the event remains a beacon of cultural heritage and community cohesion.鈥

鈥淲hile your passion for advocacy has been recognized, it is essential to underscore that political activism finds no place within the spirit of the event,鈥 it says.

Jordan Eng, president of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, said the case highlights the complexity of Chinatowns and their social and economic fault lines.

鈥淐hinatown is like a city in itself,鈥 with strong opposing views on issues such as gentrification, Eng said.

鈥淥n 105 Keefer, even within those legacy organizations, that was a really hard decision,鈥 Eng said, noting many groups changed positions over time to support the project.

鈥淥ur views don鈥檛 necessarily align with the legacy organizations, and the last go-around for 105 (Keefer), most of those organizations did not support it as well.鈥

Eng鈥檚 groups supported the project.

He said this year鈥檚 parade, celebrating both the year of the dragon and the event鈥檚 50th anniversary, would play a crucial role in the revitalization of the neighbourhood after the pandemic.

鈥淭his is really a time for us to showcase Chinatown in a very positive light, in a unified light,鈥 he said. 鈥淲e need good news stories. We don鈥檛 need people trying to bring us down.鈥

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