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DC Dyke March
“Dyke is a History”

Front of the March
Front of the March | Photo (detail): Courtesy of Tut Shoots © TutShoots

In protest against the commercialization of the Pride Parades, the Dyke March in Washington in 2019 experienced a new edition. More than a quarter of a century after its premiere, it is apparently time again for political statements from the queer scene.

By Mary Claire Phillips

It is no secret Pride has gone mainstream. The lineup of corporate floats bedecked in rainbow beckon queer money into straight pockets at Washington DC’s Capital Pride, and forces one to wonder if the event in our nation’s capital ought to be dubbed Capital(ism) Pride. It is hard to ignore the irony that those who sacrificed safety and body in the Stonewall Uprisings to bring us these celebrations would feel anything but secure at the squadrons of smiling cops lining the streets. Some folx may argue that this Rainbow Spectacle is a vast improvement from the clash on Christopher Street. However, as our understanding of intersectionality expands, so too must our acknowledgment of the inequity in the Queer Community and its celebrations.

Not parade but protest

One such movement seeking to highlight and, in turn, combat this injustice is the DC Dyke March. Resurrected after a twelve year hiatus from the Capital city, the Dyke March is a grassroots, community led effort enacting a vision for Queer Liberation in the District. On June 7th, 2019, over one thousand self-identified Dykes marched the streets of Washington DC, not in a parade but a protest. While Dyke Marches popped up across the World in locations such as Mexico City, Berlin, and, perhaps most famously, New York City: they all have Washington DC to thank for the start of this rich tradition.

Protest Signs at the March Photo: Courtesy of Tut Shoots © TutShoots
Dyke March is the foil to what Pride has become. Whereas Pride usually relies heavily on law enforcement, Dyke Marches are traditionally permitless and rely on Marshals trained in de-escalation and safety to keep the peace. Corporations flock to make money from the Pride festivities, while Dyke March generates money only to give back to the community. The DC March’s theme this year was “Dykes Against Displacement”, in response to 2019 report that the nation’s capital has the most intense rates of gentrification. The March in turn formed partnerships and raised $6500 for important local organizations such as Black Lives Matter DC, No Justice No Pride, HIPS, and Empower DC.

March on Washington

The first Dyke March took place on the eve of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation (note the exclusion of ‘T’ from the acronym).  The March on Washington focused heavily on responding to President Clinton’s upholding of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. They wanted to present the LGBT+ community as highly patriotic and placed Military members at the head of the March. Unamused with such a militant focus, members of the group the “Lesbian Avengers” came up with the idea to organize a radical protest as a political statement against what was turning out as a palatable event for a heteronormative audience. After intense organizing by the Avengers and other dyke led organizations, the first March saw around 20,000 Dykes march to Dupont Circle. 

Marshalls lining up to block traffic Photo: Courtesy of Tut Shoots © TutShoots
Looking back at the priorities of the first Dyke Marches is an opportunity to give gratitude to the activists before us. In a 2003 handout from the New York Dyke March, their demands include the right to freely marry and adopt - realities that newer generations of queers only know through the tales of our elders. Yet some demands still hit close to home: the ability to walk home without fear of violence or for our kin in conservative regions, to openly work without fear of retribution.

The privilege of vocabulary

Over a quarter of a century since the first March, resurrecting a protest in its inaugural location offers a chance for rebirth. Like any community, generational divides occur. Issues of nomenclature being one of them. Whereas in the early 1990s Dyke was taken just to mean lesbian, today’s march leaders interpret the word to be a political, rather than sexual, identity. It is important to recognize that non-lesbian queers have always been here, and have used the words afforded by the times to self-identify. Fifty years after Stonewall, we have the privilege of vocabulary. No longer does Dyke mean “lesbian”, its grown to encompass the wonderful diversity of our community. This year’s March consisted of Trans, Nonbinary, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Asexual people - all of whom can find community under the Dyke label.

Organizer at March with Megaphone Photo: Courtesy of Tut Shoots © TutShoots
In an effort to better document the wide range of experiences and political priorities that brought people to the Dyke March, the DC team launched an archival collection with the Library of Congress and a documentary projected entitled “The D-Word”.  Short testimonies can be found on the Dyke March social media pages, and eventually will be developed into a film depicting the DC Dyke experience. Bringing back this historic march in the year of Stonewall 50th was not something lost on organizers, and documenting testimony is a way of giving back to our history. This sentiment is best encompassed by Kaia (they/them, @StrangeBirdProductions), a non-binary filmmaker interviewed at Dyke Fest:“Dyke is a history. Being a dyke is not about your gender, it’s about your experience”.

A sea of rainbow

In a time where you can look out at a sea of rainbow, it is easy to sit comfortably and rest on the laurels of the activists of yesteryear. Yet now is not the time to be complacent. We live in a time in which same-sex couples proudly brandish wedding rings, while the sex workers who brought us Pride operate in secret. A time where more people than ever are attending their city’s Pride, but more Americans claim to have seen a ghost than a Trans person. A time when Law Enforcement apologizes for the nights on Christopher Street in June 1969, yet the 2019 murder cases of over a dozen Trans Women of Color run cold.

The time to advocate for our community is not confined to one month, rather it is a yearlong fight that requires constant listening to communities, unpacking privilege, sitting in that discomfort, and then persevering against the status quo. Civil disobedience is not meant to be comfortable, its very nature is to provoke. For as long as corporations and law enforcement dominate Pride, there will always be a need for an event that recenters the folx who these institutions ignore. Protests like Dyke March are important not because they harken back to history, but because there is still history to be made.