Credit: Viet Rainbow of Orange County.

Pride Month is a time of celebration and reflection for LGBTQ+ communities, recognizing their achievements and the ongoing struggle for inclusivity. Many don’t know that Orange County has a robust LGBTQ+ history.

Some abbreviated fun facts: Dana Point is actually named after the gay sailor and author. Garden Grove was once the queer hub in Orange County, with as many as 15 companies opening in the 1970s and 1980s – at one point even surpassing West Hollywood.

Amidst the Pride celebrations, we are also reminded of the many challenges that LGBTQ+ people have to navigate on a daily basis. Even though we are in California, one of the more pro-LGBTQ+ states, there are strong conservative pockets that say otherwise – Orange County being one of them. The stark contrast of celebration and fear of violence is an unsettling, yet familiar feeling for many LGBTQ+ folks here in Orange County.

As someone who was born and raised in Orange County, CA, I would have never imagined that I would be able to be out. From an early age, I knew that being a queer, Catholic Viet person in Orange County doesn’t typically come with safety. For the longest time, the classroom was my safe space, where I was able to connect with others trying to learn and figure themselves out in the large scheme of life. The classroom was a second home for me where I had the privilege of having supportive educators, peers, and resources to be myself and learn. I got to explore the rich diversity and history of the world and possibilities of the future – all from my desk, all from my closet.

My experience isn’t unique – nor is it limited to just Orange County. Across the nation, studies show that when schools provide their students the support systems they need, it is clear that students thrive. Unfortunately, the educational landscape for K-12 students in Orange County falls far short of providing a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.

The OC Board of Education (OCBE) is a publicly elected board that oversees the budget for K-12 schools in Orange County and manages the local school districts. They have voted to support Assembly Bill 1314, which would have forced school employees to out trans and nonbinary youth to their parents without the student’s consent, approving the bill amidst public comment, even when they knew the bill would not advance in committee. They dismissed the concerns of LGBTQ+ community members and allies who shared their experience learning and living in Orange County during public comment by being on their phones. And they didn’t lift a finger to stop hateful verbal and nearly physical bullying of trans individuals during their meetings.

This situation also isn’t unique to Orange County. Nationwide, we’ve seen the appalling attacks on LGBTQ+ rights in all sectors and in all states, with more than 540 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced in at least 37 states. It’s part of a widespread effort to take away our rights, protections and deny our humanity.

Within the forgotten LGBTQ+ history in OC, there is a strong history of community activism.  In 1991, there was a protest of over 1,000 people along Garden Grove Blvd, in response to the Gov. Wilson’s veto to AB 101, which would have offered protections for queer individuals in things like housing and employment. In 2006, a teen fought the Garden Grove Unified School district with the ACLU for being unfairly disciplined by school officials and “outing” her to her mother without her consent. In 2013, Viet Rainbow of Orange County (VROC) was created by LGBTQ+ youth, elders and mothers of LGBTQ+ children to fight and demand inclusion of LGBTQ+ Vietnamese Americans in the Lunar New Year/Tết Parade.

In this past month, VROC and Advancing Justice Southern California issued a letter to the OC Board of Education to call them out on their discriminatory actions that harm LGBTQ+ students’ well-being and inclusivity. This letter was co-signed and supported by over 350 concerned community members. We had asked for three actions: 1) Rescinding their endorsement of AB 1314, 2) Prioritize supporting policies that protect trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students, and 3) Meet with LGBTQ+ Community and Allies by the end of June 2023. As of today, only one trustee has reached out to meet to have a meeting with LGBTQ+ community – the first time that this has happened in recent years, if ever. 

As Pride month wraps up, local electeds like the Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors need to understand that we celebrate and fight for our community all year long. LGBTQ+ issues and people are not something that exists outside our county lines – it’s always been here. As LGBTQ+ people living in Orange County ourselves, we know the challenges and barriers to care and prosperity and we are building the future that we deserve. Our pride is built on progress – the everyday work we do to ensure that trans kids live to see another day, schools are safe and affirming, and that LGBTQ+ individuals get access to vital resources and support. Gradual as it may be, progress has happened in Orange County – and progress will continue to happen in Orange County because of the labor and love of our community.

To the local elected officials in Orange County – get ready to celebrate Pride all year long in Orange County with us. We’re keeping you all accountable to your rhetoric and inaction.

Uyen Hoang (she/they) is the Executive Director of Viet Rainbow of Orange County (VROC). VROC is a grassroots organization based in Orange County, California that builds community and mobilizes intergenerationally. We are grounded in values of equity, healing, joy, and social justice.

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