Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Remembering Gay Vietnamese Activist and Scholar Quan Nguyen, 1969-2014

Just slightly over a month after a Vietnamese American gay activist passed away, I am shocked to bring the news of another UCI former student and gay Vietnamese activist who passed away: Nguyen Manh Anh Quan passed away from heart failure last Thursday, 13 March 2014, at 8 p.m.

A smiling Quan Nguyen.  Photo credit: Luan Nguyen.
  A smiling Quan Nguyen.  Photo credit: Luan Nguyen.
Quan Nguyen was a brilliant UC Irvine sociology student who entered graduate school at UC Irvine and did his graduate work, also in sociology, on gay liberation.  His 23-year long partner, Bob Tucker told me the horrible news over the weekend.  

I remember the brilliant student who would challenge conventional wisdom, and fight for his rights his entire life. Once, when I was teaching a sexualities class in the political science department at UC Irvine, I invited Quan's lover, Bob, as a guest speaker.  That particular class session got a lot of publicity, namely a write-up in the student paper, New University, not least because Quan, outspoken as he was, wrote to the paper to complain about its coverage (apparently a reporter was in the classroom when Bob spoke). 

In 2010, when queer Vietnamese were that year initially allowed to march in the Tet parade on Bolsa Avenue in Westminster, Quan and Bob drew widespread attention and no doubt notoriety for kissing during the parade.  A photo of that famous kiss by an interracial gay couple, taken by a photographer for the Orange County Register, went viral and was used subsequently by rightwing Vietnamese groups to lobby against allowing gays to march.  It was only last month that organizers of the annual Tet parade caved in to civil liberties concerns and officially ended the ban on gay and lesbian marchers forever.

The famous kiss, Tet parade, Westminster, 2010.  Photo credit: Mindy Schauer
Around that time, Quan, who suffered from encephalopathy, a neurological disorder, filed, together with Bob, an internal disability complaint against UC Irvine.   As is typically, unfortunately, the case, the University ended up dismissing the complaint.  A chance for the University to be caring and loving was missed.

I like to think Quan deserves credit for being a pioneer in sexuality studies at UC Irvine, and for pushing the envelope on that once taboo topic.  He did succeed actually:  The day after he passed away, the University announced it was renaming its Women's Studies Department to be the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies.
encephalopBob, an internal complaint against the University for disability discrimination; as is usually the case, the complaint was dismissed by the University.  

Bob has released this profile of Quan's life:

Quan Anh Nguyen, 45, passed away suddenly at his home on March 13, 2014 after several years of struggling with encephalopathy, and other health issues. He was with the love of his life and domestic partner of 23 years, Bob Tucker. Quan's never ending love touched his partner, family, friends and the  LGBT community during all of his short life on earth.

Quan was born on March 9, 1969 in Saigon, Vietnam to Thuy and Hung Nguyen. At the end of the Vietnam war his family tried many times to come to America. Everyone finally made it except for his father, whom he loved so much, who was lost at sea among the other 60,000 Boat People who never survived the journey to America. His father, once wrote Quan from a Vietnamese prison, stating, "I want you to feel proud and satisfied with what you achieve for yourself, or done for others, knowing that you've done right."

In America, Quan took to heart his father's message, excelling in school and ultimately graduating  Suma Cum Laude from UCI in 1992, majoring in Sociology. As an "out" and proud gay Vietnamese man, Quan chose to write his Masters Thesis about the LGBT revolution that began at the New York City Stonewall Inn in 1969. He and his partner traveled to NYC in 1994 for the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion where he met and interviewed many of the early LGBT civil rights advocates of the time. He was in awe of their courage and carried that torch forward in his own life. Quan was particularly proud of the time he and his partner Bob kissed while marching in the 2010 Tet Parade in Little Saigon. He was also very proud of the young Vietnamese LGBT activists who picked up the torch again to ensure LGBT inclusion in the Tet Parade in 2014. 

Quan loved the music from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Some of his favorite bands were the Turtles, Donna Summer, Madonna and Boy George. He loved good Vietnamese food and befriended many restauranteurs in Little Saigon.

He lived a full life always in the spirit of love. Quan leaves behind his partner, mother, brother, and an extended loving family who loved him dearly and who accepted him for the loving, caring person he was.

A similar profile appears in an obituary in today's OC Register.
Quan's memorial service will be held at Peek Family Funeral Home,7801 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, CA 92683, on Saturday March 22nd, 2014, from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The memorial service will start with a visitation, then the eulogy, followed by a Buddhist ceremony.  There is a guest book online.
then eulogy, followed by a Buddhist ceremony.
-- Daniel C. Tsang

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