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A Dyke March is a mostly lesbian-led and inclusive gathering and protest march much like the original gay pride parades and marches. Dyke marches usually occur the Friday or Saturday before LGBT pride parades and larger metropolitan areas have related events (parties, benefits, dances) both before and after the event to further develop community often targeting specific community segments (older women, bar events, arts, parenting groups, etc.) The purpose of a Dyke March is to increase lesbian visibility and activism and they have grown to be more inclusive of all women-loving-women regardless of labels, including bisexual, intersex and transgender women.
Dyke Marches are now held in Berlin, London in Europe and Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, and Vancouver, Canada as well as Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC, Portland, ME, San Diego, Oakland, Minneapolis and other cities around the United States.
One of the first documented lesbian pride marches in North America took place in May, 1981, in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Canada. The march, which attracted approximately 200 lesbians, was part of the Bi-National Lesbian Conference. In October, 1981, an organization called Lesbians Against the Right organized a second march in Toronto, Ontario.
The first nationwide Dyke March was held in Washington, D.C. on April 24, 1993. This event was planned by the Lesbian Avengers. Over 20,000 women marched. The large turnout can be attributed to the fact that the Dyke March coincided with March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. It was intended as a woman-only event, organized by the direct action Lesbian Avengers who encouraged gay and bisexual men, as well as other supporters, to cheer the marchers on, a tradition that continues to this day.
The first San Francisco Dyke March was held a few months later, in June 1993, and is still celebrated every year on the last Saturday in June. The Dyke March is informal, with marchers creating their own signs and most people showing up to participate, rather than to just watch. The streets along the march route are lined with thousands of enthusiastic spectators, mostly gay men in support of the women. The march begins in Dolores Park with speeches, performances and community networking and ends in the Castro District, at the Pink Saturday party where the Dyke March sound-truck becomes a stage for more performances, DJs and more speakers. The San Francisco Dyke March has high attendance numbers yet remains a peaceful and well-organized event. While some have stated that 200,000 attend, the more common estimate for 2010 is around 50,000, as found on the official website.
In the early years the San Francisco Dyke March Committee (a small group of volunteers) never applied for nor received a permit from the city, exercising the First Amendment right to gather without permits and often changed its route to avoid the police.
New York City's Dyke March is another beloved tradition. In the 1970s, separate Lesbian Pride marches were held, for several years, but they did not become a continuous tradition. The Dyke March was renewed by the NY Chapter of the Lesbian Avengers in June 1993 (after the success of the Dyke March in Washington).
On the Saturday before Pride, participants gather in Bryant Park as they prepare to march down Fifth Avenue towards Washington Square Park. The Dyke March is open to everyone who identifies as a 'dyke'. Because of this, allies and others who do not identify as 'dykes' have been asked to stand on the sidewalks and cheer on the marchers. As with the San Francisco Dyke March, the organizers do not seek out a permit, and put a high emphasis on the political. Even though there are many club nights and parties after the March, the event is not so much about entertainment as it is about highlighting the presence of self-identified women within the LGBT community. Each year approximately 15,000 women attend this event.
The reason for the creation of the various Dyke Marches was to protest what many women saw as the control of Gay Pride events by white gay men at the expense of lesbians in general and women of color in particular. Many of the Lesbian Avengers were also concerned that New York's Gay Pride March was losing its political edge as it became more accepted by the city and courted by corporations.
Seattle's Dyke March occurs the Saturday before Pride with a Rally with speakers and performers who are women identified and queer identified from 5 to 7pm. The Rally is held outside at Seattle Central Community College. The Rally is ASL interpreted. In addition to the speakers and performers, Northwest Network, an LGBT domestic violence organization, sets up a clothesline project, showcasing t-shirts made by survivors of domestic violence. The March goes through Seattle's LGBT neighborhood, going around a block starting and ending on Broadway, the center of the LGBT neighborhood.
For the better part of the last decade of Dyke March, organizers do seek a permit. Since about 2007, the march audience has been about 1,000 women, and the permit ensures the streets are clear for Marching. It also provides greater access an inclusion for the bus that is rented every year to allow differently-abled/disabled people to participate in the March.
The Chicago Dyke March occurs each year around the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, June 28, 1969. The Chicago Dyke March has been in operation since 1995 in the LGBT-friendly neighborhood of Andersonville. However, in 2008 organizers announced that it will remain in each new location for two consecutive years. The March was held in Pilsen in 2008 and 2009, in South Shore in 2010 and 2011, and in Uptown in 2012. According to the planners of the Chicago Dyke March the reason behind the move was to "increase 'queer visibility' throughout all neighborhoods in" Chicago. Journalist and commentator Yasmin Nair has been critical of the Chicago Dyke March, saying,
In Chicago, for instance, we have an alternative Dyke March, but it became, over the course of a decade, a predominantly white and middle-class event. Even after it moved locations (first to the predominantly Latin@ west side, then to the largely African-American South Shore) there’s a great deal of talk about alternative politics, but not very much conscious conversation about what it means to, essentially, stage Dyke March in these communities and not very much explicit engagement with people, including queers, who live there. Instead, one day a year, we "take over the streets," and then disappear. I’ve been to the alternative Dyke three out of the four years so far, and I can see its value as a kind of annual resting space/networking tool for queers with alternative politics, but I wish we would drop the pretense that moving the location is more than just marching in a different place.
The Berlin Dyke March in Germany, Europe, occurs each year the day before Berlin Pride Parade in June. The Berlin Dyke March has been in operation since 2013 in the LGBT-friendly neighborhood of Kreuzberg.
The London Dyke March in United Kingdom, Europe, occurs each year in June. The London Dyke March has been in operation since 2012 in the central part of London. This years "London Dyke March" featured speakers, including a representative from the Safra Project, a charity for Muslim LBT women, and Sarah Brown, a transgender lesbian activist and former Lib Dem councilor. The "London Dyke March" emphasizes diversity, including bois, queers, femmes, butches, lipstick lesbians and many more.
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