Pride, Protest & Sexual Politics at the 20th Annual Dyke March
On Saturday, June 23, the New York City Dyke March celebrated 20 years of marching, sans permits, up Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street to Washington Square Park. To ensure that the event continues, longtime organizers passed the reins to the next wave of younger women. But clashes between lesbians and a contingent of transgender and gender-variant individuals following the march reveal the need for further bridge building.
"We’re still marching for very basic things, first of all, visibility," said longtime organizer Maxine Wolfe. "Lesbians are still not out there in the community, everything is about men, still. Lesbians have very particular perspective on things. We know that the economy sucks, because we’re the people most affected by it. And we know that it’s especially hard for out lesbians, even when there’s non-discrimination, because all kinds of things happen in the workspace that they can’t necessarily sue about. If they’re very visibly lesbian, they can’t get a job easily. So economics is still a big thing for lesbians. Even though there are poor men, there are a lot more poor women."
Other issues important to Wolfe included violence against women, the fair wage bill, the anti-abortion legislation and harassment of transgender women. "We are women; we have women’s issues," said Wolf. "And we still need to march for our basic liberation."
After 20 years, Wolfe handed over the reins to some new organizers, among them Rebecca Triglianos, who rallied the marshals, and led the marchers to step off into Fifth Avenue at the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street.
"I think as a dyke you don’t see a lot of your people around you all the time, so there’s something about gathering in New York City and taking Fifth Avenue that is so powerful," said Triglianos, who hoped that the march would attract 20,000 people. "It’s powerful for other folks to see us for visibility, but it’s powerful for us to see each other, too. With all the other fights we have, this is when we come together. This is a protest march and a visibility march, but it’s also a celebration of our lesbian lives that are too often invisible."
Attorney Yetta Kurland has served as the Dyke March’s legal observer for many years. She said that the event differs from the Heritage of Pride parade in that, "they apply for permits and get permission in advance from the police to march." Kurland said that after the 2004 Republican National Convention, the New York Police Department mandated that if 50 people or more wanted to march or otherwise exercise their First Amendment right to assemble, they would be required to apply for a permit.
"The women organizing the Dyke March have refused to do that, because they believe it’s important to assemble and show our visibility," said Kurland. "And on the 20th anniversary of the march, it is so good to see that." Kurland said that there were no arrests this year.
Younger lesbians Katelyn and Beth marched topless holding signs, and said that among their main issues were marriage equality, equal pay, and youth homelessness.
"I think it’s really important to build community," said Katelyn. "The most important issue right now is marriage equality, and New York has taken a huge step but there’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of people around the country and the world who don’t enjoy the freedoms that we do."
"We do a lot of work in shelters and a lot of time people there are people of color and economically disadvantaged, so we want to make sure they’re part of the queer movement, and that they are able to come to Pride," said Keila, who works at the the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. "A lot of people forget they need access to money for a Metrocard and food and we want to make sure they are part of the movement."
Kella believes that "Gay Inc." is throwing the underprivileged under the bus as gay leaders pursue issues like marriage and adoption. "Under the Bloomberg Administration, homelessness, especially among LGBT youth, has skyrocketed,’ she said. "I think our community is very focused on the white middle class right now, and that is not something that can be acceptable in a grassroots movement, when the people who are most affected are the people who are not heard."
Visible Trans Contingent Joins March; Infighting Ensues
A new, very visible contingent in this year’s march was The Hole-y Army, a group of about 75 gender-variant and genderqueer people, marching under the banner of "Gender > Genitals," promoting gender inclusion for all women-identified people.
"We wanted to do a project for trans inclusion, gender queers, MTF butches and FTM femmes, no matter what gender we are and what we want to present to the world, anyone can self-define as a dyke," said organizer Coral Short. "Some of my friends didn’t feel welcome at the Dyke March, and were asked, ’Do you belong here?’ But everyone belongs: part-time dykes, ’used to be a dyke.’ The Dyke March numbers were going down, and so we wanted to bring in the whole family."
With their colorful outfits, assorted "holes" on sticks, choreographed dance moves and prepared chants, The Hole-y Army added a lot of excitement to the Dyke March. But according to numerous participants, a dust-up between a lesbian activist and some of the members of The Hole-y Army has marred an otherwise unifying event.
According to reports, Baltimore lawyer Cathy Brennan was walking past Dyke March organizer Ida Hammer when Hammer tapped her on the shoulder, flanked by about a dozen trans activists.
"I had no idea who Hammer was, but she said that she knew who I was and wanted me to know this march was for all women," said Brennan. "I said, ’Yes, I know it’s an inclusive space and I respect that, and that women have the ability to decide what their space should be.’ That seemed to flummox her; I think she was looking for an apology or a fight, I’m not sure."
Brennan has been vocal on her blog about her opposition to transpeople who "pressure lesbians to transition, or to identify as sexually open to trans women, or be labeled bigots."
Brennan said that she feared a confrontation, and asked the group to move away from where some young children were playing. She moved to a bench and sat down, and was surrounded by activists, one of whom got so close, Brennan asked whether the individual would like to sit in her lap.
"They are saying I sexually harassed them, but I said, ’You stepped to me, and I’m harassing you?’" Brennan told EDGE. "It lasted a very long time -- at least an hour -- and during this time people were crowding my space, and I didn’t feel I could leave easily. I’ve been an activist for 20 years, done counter-demos against racist skinheads and KKK people and never felt as physically unsafe as I did at that moment."
Hammer left soon after the conversation began, and Wolfe stressed that the remainder of the people involved were not representative of Dyke March organizers.
"I think that transpeople telling lesbians who we need to find desirable is just like a man telling us all we need is a good dick," said Brennan. "If you substitute your values for my values as a dyke, you’re going to have problems."
Another march committee organizer, Juniper, was among those that approached Brennan. "People went to speak with her because she has a long history of outing transwomen, and people went to speak to her about making transwomen feel unsafe," said Juniper. "She was saying horrible things to transwomen, and some walked away crying; she was calling transwomen not female, and that was really hurtful."
One observer heard Brennan tell queer activists that while they may self-identify as "women" they were not "female." She added that she was appalled by what she saw as a condescending tone activists took toward Brennan. She also took issue with the physical threats made against Brennan.
"They paint themselves as all rainbows and hearts and want to love everyone, but they think everyone who values a space for women who were born female hates transwomen and is ignorant," said the observer. "They approach you as if you are a bigot; there’s no agree to disagree happening. And these physical threats are a whole different degree of insanity to me."
Kurland said that infighting amongst the LGBT community is unfortunate, and while the Dyke March has always been a place for emerging ideas about gender and sexuality to be expressed, "at the same time, I think there has to be a kind of respectful intention that while we fight to ensure that our ideas are expressed, we also allow others to express their ideas."
Kurland cited as an example the religious protestor who pickets the Dyke March every year with a sign that reads, "Jesus Saves." Last year, a young woman spent the march standing next to him with a sign reading, "This guy needs a hobby."
"She is not stopping him from doing his thing, she is just finding a thoughtful, creative and intelligent way to underscore his absurdity," said Kurland.
Although bullying on either side should not be allowed, said Kurland, "it is a testament to us in disenfranchised communities that we start to attack our own." Kurland said that most of the people at the march came forward with thoughtful, political messages, talking anti-racism and a broader wealth of issues, which was very encouraging.