BY KELSY CHAUVIN | Stormy weather seemed somehow fitting for the 23rd annual New York City Dyke March. Rather than easing on down the road, throngs of queer women streamed through the center of Manhattan unified in the fight to claim our own equality — so committed that even summer showers could not deter us. If anything, it emboldened us as protestors of a status quo that continues to deny women financial parity, vocational and housing equity, and other equal rights.
This year’s march once again stepped off from 42nd Street and, as it has since 1993, claimed its two-mile stretch of Fifth Avenue as a permit-free First-Amendment-protected protest march. Or rather, a “fucking protest” as the official Dyke March marshals’ T-shirts declared. They blocked traffic at intersections to protect well over a thousand dykes, trans people, and other supporters making their voices heard under one banner.
“Only the strong survive!” said Jen Wanous, who’s attended Dyke Marches from Fire Island to Bangkok over the past 15 years. “Everyone at this year’s march seems totally committed to being here, being out, and being with community — as we’d have to be to get out here in the rain. There’s a silly joy and a sense of abandon. And it seems like a tighter-knit group this year. We’re all in it together!”
One of the annual Dyke March points of pride is the band of drummers who lead the charge, setting a harmonious pace and serving as a beating heart for enthusiastic marchers. The “Annual Dyke March” banner declares a kind of pride unique to lesbian heritage, having been a key element of the march’s legacy since the very first protest in 1993.
“Our struggle as women and lesbians is not over,” said Denise Shanks. “If anything, with the Supreme Court’s ruling, now we can turn our attention to fighting discrimination in other areas.”
As is customary, curious tourists paused for snapshots, and a small handful of men shouting and picketing with homophobic, Jesus-citing signs followed the march. Their voices were overpowered by the pounding of drums, gleeful homo-proud roars, and whistles and chants for dyke power.
“This weekend has been so jubilant, but the most important thing is to never forget that there’s opposition to our equality all over this country,” said Shanks. “We scored a huge victory this year and it’s profound and amazing. We can and should celebrate! But we can never, ever sit back on our laurels and let those who wish to limit our freedoms creep back from their dark corners and promote their narrow mindedness.”
Dyke Marches take place in cities around the world, usually on the Saturday afternoon of Pride weekend. Cities like Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco were home to the very first two decades ago, led by the political action group the Lesbian Avengers.
Since then, cities everywhere –– from Berlin to Mexico City to London –– have their begun own protest tradition, along with most major US and Canadian cities. Vancouver and Toronto host impressive festivals and well-organized rallies around their Dyke Marches, using the occasions to galvanize queer women’s communities and organizations.
This year in New York, marchers came from across the United States and as far away as Iceland. Helga Bryndís Ernudóttir and her girlfriend attended, making it their very first Dyke March, after celebrating Pride in other cities. Her observations underscore the direction many LGBT protestors see Pride headed the world over.
“As the official Pride parade becomes more and more commercial, where you can’t march unless you are part of a group, the Dyke March lets every self-identifying dyke walk and fight for their rights,” said Ernudóttir. “Along with that, as gay men and lesbians are often grouped together as they have many similar advocacy issues, the Dyke March, as the name states, is just for dykes and lets lesbians fight for the causes often forgotten, such as reproductive rights.”
Above all, she said, “The best part was the incredibly strong protest atmosphere. There were dykes from all walks of life there to fight for a common cause — the right to be who they are.”
With the wet weather, the pre-march rally proved challenging at Midtown’s Bryant Park. It did prompt a punctual step-off, however, and between the drums, the exultation, and the determination, this year’s march proved as powerful as ever — culminating in familiar revelry at Washington Square Park.
“As a queer woman who passes as straight in the world, the Dyke March is a rare opportunity to be out,” said Wanous. “It’s also important to be reminded that amongst our differences, we all have a common tie.”
And the best part of the experience?
Wanous said that would be: “Seeing old friends, sharing the experience, being reminded that I’m part of a bigger community… And the outfits!”
Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer, and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction, and LGBT interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kelsycc.