Dyke March London: what is it? and why do we need one?
There’s a Dyke March in London on 31st March – Kendal Mint Cake reflects on gay gatherings and talks to organiser Emelia about why she has decided to put on the UK’s first Dyke March
Gay Pride was one of my favourite days of the year when I was a teenager. I’d get really in to it with the flags and the whistles and the drinking in the street. But as I got older, came out and started actually knowing how to talk to girls I liked, Gay Pride left me increasingly cold. I didn’t get why at first, but then I realised that I felt a bit out of joint with the whole event. It was all too sticky and sickly- I’d go home feeling like I’d just had a bottle of WKD tipped on my head, thanking god that my social life was a world away from pissing behind a bush as I queued to get into Soho Square. So when I heard about Dyke March London, I was intrigued but sceptical. I caught up with and quizzed the organiser, Emelia Holdaway, to find out more.
1) What is the ethos and message of Dyke March?
Dyke March London is about dykes. We support dyke visibility and celebrate our love and passion for women and all dykes. Dyke March London is for everyone: dykes, queers, bisexuals, transwomen, genderqueers and allies. This is a grassroots, non-commercial, anti-racist, community-centred, accessible, inclusive event: we welcome all folk who want to support dykes to march with us.
Dyke March London is being organised by a collective of dykes and their friends – we have regular meetings, as well as organising via an extended online collective.
2) What inspired you to start one in London?
Looking at all the Dyke March pictures on Facebook last summer – they look like so much fun! And we wondered why UK didn’t have a Dyke March, because we think UK should, and since it doesn’t….we decided to organise one.
3) Do you have to identify as a ‘dyke’ to attend? I know lots of lesbians who wouldn’t identify that way.
We’re using Dyke March London rather than any other name since we’re taking inspiration from the history of Dyke Marches in North America.
Certainly though you don’t need to identify as a ‘dyke’ to attend, we want to see all the dykes, lesbians, bois, queers, andros, femmes, butches, inbetweenies, lipstick lesbians, leather dykes, dandies, drag kings, bisexuals, transwomen and genderqueers…and their friends out in force at Dyke March London. Its an inclusive event, and we welcome all allies who want to march with us. This also includes straight allies and it includes men – a friend of mine who organises the Boston Dyke March told me a story about seeing a father marching with his teenage daughter at their last march, how amazing – this the sort of thing we want to see and support.
4) Are you actively trying to get men involved at all or is it more a case of them being welcome if they show up?
Our focus is on dykes, so we’re not actively trying to get men involved, but yes, they are welcome if they want to march with us (as are all supporters of dykes). The last thing we want to do on the march is police gender, particularly when there are so many diverse expressions of gender within the dyke community.
5) Where did the movement come from?
The history goes back nearly 20 years. There was a national march on Washington being organised for April 1993 by the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. However, it was felt that there wasn’t going to be any content of relevance to lesbians, so a coalition of grassroots women’s and lesbian organisations decided to have a dyke march the day before the ‘official’ national march. Organisers were expecting around 1,000 people to come – but by word of mouth, the news spread like wildlife – and 20,000 people turned up! It was massive. And after that, the march became an annual event in Washington, as well as inspiring Dyke Marches in other cities.
6) How does it differ from the Gay Pride march?
Dyke March London is a grassroots, noncommercial, unsponsored event – you won’t be getting any whistles/keychains with corporate logos to take home with you.
7) There have been Dyke Marches in the US and Canada for several years. Why do you think it hasn’t spread to Europe yet?
Hmmm, good question. Preceding the Dyke Marches in the US and Canada, in the 80s there were Lesbian Strength marches in London for a few years, their history is not so well documented but I understand intense clashes between pro- and anti- S/M women were are the core of the demise of Lesbian Strength. Outside of North America, there is a Dyke March in Mexico city, and I hear there is also one in Stockholm.
8) So this 20 year lull in Dyke Marches seems to have been caused by infighting amongst the organisers and political groups involved- how are you going to prevent that from happening again?
Our door is open in that we did a big reach-out to women’s, feminist and lesbian advocacy and activist groups in autumn 2011, when Dyke March London was still being conceptualised, to let them know that planning was underway. We invited them to our planning meetings (which are open) and that we’d love them to join us on the march. We don’t claim to have spoken to everyone, but we did make contact with as many groups as we were aware of. Dyke March London is an inclusive event, which may be a point of difference with Lesbian Strength, which stood on the side of excluding S/M dykes.
9) Are you putting on any events on the run up to it?
Yes! There will be a Dykeumentary Afternoon documentary screening fundraiser (details coming very soon), with plans in the pipeline for other fundraisers: a bingo/quiz/afternoon tea event, as well as a performance art/cake event.
The Dyke March London Facebook group is the best way to keep updated: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/158131484294423/
10) Where will people actually march on the day?
We’ll start in Soho Square and then march through Central London. We have a fabulous finish point: the BFI Southbank and London Gay Film Festival with some great after parties planned – watch this space!
11) Are you expecting any trouble? And if there is some, how will you deal with it?
We aren’t expecting trouble – Dyke March London as a concept has been in the public arena for several months now and there haven’t been any adverse reactions we’re aware of. Having said this, we want to be proactive in ensuring the march is a safe space for all participants, in particular, we wont tolerate the march being compromised by any racist elements (keeping in mind the EDL/East End trouble from last year), transphobia or other harassment – so the march stewards will be briefed on not just the march route but also how to react if they see or are made aware of this happening.
12) What are you hoping to achieve by the end of it?
Dyke March London is about visibility and community building – being visible is an act of protest, an act of power and is part of creating community.
13) Le Tigre did that song ‘Dyke March 2001′ which includes a sample of a woman saying she goes to Dyke Marches because she loves being surrounded by ‘marching naked ladies’. Are you expecting any of that?
Well, we can hope.