Why These Torontonians Attend the Dyke March
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Why These Torontonians Attend the Dyke March

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Dyke March 2014. Photo by Corbin Smith.

Dyke March 2014. Photo by Corbin Smith.

Every year, the Saturday before the Pride Parade in Toronto is time to celebrate the Dyke March.

The first march of lesbian-identified women in Toronto took place in October 1981, eight months after the 1981 bathhouse raids by an organization called Lesbians Against the Right. But it was only in 1996 that the first official Dyke March was launched.

Many consider the Dyke March one of the more political events at Pride, focused more on queer and trans women’s rights than party or celebration.

In anticipation of this year’s march, we asked five attendees why they go—and what keeps them coming back.

1 Meaghan Atherton

MEAGHAN ATHERTON

When did you first attend the Dyke March?

I first attended the Dyke March in 2001. 

I attended as a step in my journey of coming out as a queer leatherwomyn, which started the year before. At the time, I had been regularly attending the Womyn’s SM discussion group at The 519 community centre, and through that I got involved as a volunteer for the Pussy Palace Bathhouse (that was the first year after the raid). I was [also] dating my first girlfriend. Attending the march was a way to feel a sense of community with the leatherdykes, to show solidarity with the community as a whole, to feel proud and comfortable in my own skin. It was exciting and exhilarating, and little bit terrifying all at the same time. I loved it!

What are the differences you’ve noticed between the parade and the march?

There are obvious differences like the route, and the duration for each is very different, the Pride Parade being much longer than the march. The sheer number of attendees—there are many more people (watching and participating in) the parade compared to the march, and even fewer spectators at the march if the weather is bad like it was last year. 

I feel there is a huge difference in the energy between the two. To me the Parade is more of a celebration—there’s dancing, lots of music, floats with balloons, and everyone is partying, whereas the march has lots of chanting, singing, less emphasis on floats or music, the energy is more fierce than celebratory. That first year I did both the Dyke March and the Pride Parade, I remember noticing small differences, such as the crowd barriers—I liked how people could join or exit the march as we walked along, as opposed to the parade where there is a clear boundary between participants and spectators. In the years since I participated, the Dyke March has always felt like more of a grassroots event compared to the parade, which has a lot of corporate sponsorship. 

What does the Dyke March mean to you?

My answer to that changes based on where I am in my life. What the Dyke March meant to me in my first year is very different than what it means to me now. When I started, it was a way to be inspired to shout from the rooftops that I’m queer and a leatherwomyn and be proud of that. The first couple of years were important to me to pay homage to those who marched after the first round of bathhouse raids, and to those who can’t march at all. Some years it’s been about reconnecting with old friends and the leather community after taking a break from it.

Although I’ve been known to whistle and chant during the Dyke March, I also find time to take a moment of silent reflection while I’m marching, to look back on my own personal journey and progress within the LGTBQ community and see how far we’ve come. Some years that brings smiles, and some years that brings tears, but it’s important to me to reflect and remember. 

What would you tell people who have never attended?

I’d say come down and show your support. It’s very special to be marching and see smiles and waves of support. I’d love to see the same turnout supporting the march as there is for the parade. Whether you’re new to the community—and that goes for allies too—get involved!

In general: don’t gawk, please be respectful of people and their space. Not everyone wants their picture taken, so make sure you ask permission first, especially if it’s a close up. The Dyke March is not a fashion show or a place for anyone to judge, shame, or demean anyone and that type of attitude is simply not acceptable. Lastly, I don’t particularly enjoy being sprayed with water guns so I’d tell people to leave them at home, or, at the very least, get consent first, and never spray people wearing leather.

What would you like to see change? Stay the same?

I’ve already alluded to wanting to see a better turnout of support for the Dyke March as there is for the Pride Parade—we’d march regardless of whether or not there was anyone watching—but speaking as someone who has done both the march and the parade, there is a stark difference in support from one day to the next.

One thing I never want to see change is opening the march with the Dykes on Bikes. One of my favourite moments every year is the revving of motorcycles indicating the march is about to start—there is so much electricity in the air, it sends shivers down my spine every single time. In 2010 there was a push for change with the Take Back the Dyke moment. I’d like to see it stay on the grassroots side, but I also understand that as time marches on, things change.


2 Roya Ghahremani

ROYA GHAHREMANI

When did you first attend the Dyke March?

My first time attending the Dyke March was in 2013, my first year at university. I went along with a bunch of friends who were from our LGBTQ student group. We stayed the whole weekend and attended all three main events.

What are the differences you’ve noticed between the parade and the march?

While the Pride Parade is where most people attend for the celebratory aspects, the Dyke March has remained a more political demonstration than the Pride Parade. It is centred mostly on female-identified people, while the Parade does not cater specifically to one subgroup.

What does the Dyke March mean to you?

To me, the Dyke March is an event for expression and political action. While I think Pride should remain celebratory and allow people to have fun, there definitely still needs to [be] a political aspect, and the Dyke March does this by remaining a march. I am not an overly political person, but it is the one time a year that I get into the whole political side of Pride.

What would you tell people who have never attended?

I would like to tell anyone who has never attended that this march is not just for women to participate in; it is of course very important that it is centred on women-identified people’s experiences, and puts their voices first, but male-identified people are still welcome to attend and even join in on the march. Allies are important in every fight.

What would you like to see change? Stay the same?

I want to see the Dyke March remain a march and not be made into a parade. It should remain a respectable political space, as that is how Pride started and that’s why we are all able to celebrate today. The drinking and the dancing can come after.


3 May

MAY

When did you first attend the Dyke March?

I can’t remember the exact year I first attended the Dyke March, but it would have been shortly after I moved to Toronto in 2006. Part of the appeal of moving to Toronto from Ottawa was the large queer communities in the city. 

Even before I fully came into my queer identity, I came into my political identity. For me, there’s never been a separation of the two. The Dyke March is a much more explicitly political space during Pride, and it felt more comfortable for me than the Parade. There’s also the excitement of being part of a large gathering of queer folks claiming space in the city.  

What are the differences you’ve noticed between the parade and the march?

The Pride Parade has become a much more commercial affair. There’s tons of advertising everywhere. Last year, a company was handing out cereal samples during [the parade]. There’s a lot of corporate visibility. The Dyke March, in comparison, is all about the coming together and visibility of queer people, first and foremost. 

What does the Dyke March mean to you?

Honestly, in the last few years, Pride has come to mean less and less to me. I was very disheartened by attempts to ban Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from participating in Pride as a whole. Although that wasn’t specifically about the Dyke March, it made me feel that I, as a queer Palestinian, have to leave part of me at the door to participate in Pride. Right now, I’m most interested in creating or building spaces where I can be my full self and a lot of that building happens outside of the Pride context. 

What would you tell people who have never attended?

There are a lot of different points of view represented in the March. Find what resonates with you, and if nothing does, carve out your own space.

What would you like to see change? Stay the same?

I’d like to see the political and grassroots aspects of the Dyke March represented elsewhere at Pride. I’d also love for the march to recognize those for whom “dyke” may not be a great fit identity-wise—for example, non-binary folks. 


4 Rachna Contractor

RACHNA CONTRACTOR

When did you first attend the Dyke March?

My first dyke march was in 2005. I marched with Mirchi, a group for South Asian queer women and trans people.

I attended because, at that time, it felt like there were very few queer South Asian women and fewer trans people in Toronto. Representation and visibility were important to me, and I was trying to build community. It turned out to be a horrible experience. All I saw were men with cameras, photographing us. Even the security guards who had been hired by Pride were gawking, being lewd and offensive with their words and behaviour. It felt unsafe and contrary to what I was expecting. Turns out visibility comes with a price. 

What are the differences you’ve noticed between the parade and the march?

I have attended neither in many years but in the past the Pride Parade has felt like a series of advertisements in the form of corporate trucks and gay/queer bodies on show for straight onlookers. The Dyke March has a little more meaning; a taking up of space and collective statement that we’re here. My last Dyke March was Take Back the Dyke in 2010, which was the anti-march organized by a group of people to counter how corporate Pride’s Dyke March had become. It was the year that Dyke Day moved to Queen’s Park, very removed from other Pride festivities. That was a great experience. It was really diverse, low-key and meaningful. It felt like we took to the streets and were applauded. 

What would you like to see change? Stay the same?

I’d like to go back to a smaller, less corporate, more political, community-focused event where protest and storytelling are prioritized, where queers and trans people get to take up space rather than put on a show for straight onlookers. We’ve come a long way and have a lot to celebrate, but too many people have forgotten where we came from and that makes me sad.

I’d like people to show solidarity with the queer and trans people who are marginalized and struggling rather than talk about “love and unity,” especially in the wake of Orlando. I’d like to hear more from Black Lives Matter, sex workers, youth, trans women of colour, and our elders, and less from police chiefs, politicians, and CEOs. 


5 Aerlyn Weismann

AERLYN WEISMANN

When did you first attend the Dyke March?

It was not until 2002, while I was directing the Toronto season of Kink, that I took part in the Dyke March.

What are the differences you’ve noticed between the parade and the march?

I certainly appreciated that at the time it started, it was a critique of the corporate, gay male power elite who in many cases were happy to use women’s unpaid time and energies to promote the kind of Pride celebrations that focused on bars, male performers (in drag and out), as well as male musicians and tech people who mostly did get paid.

Women wanted to be part of an event that honoured their work and their culture, and provided opportunities to develop their leadership and their understanding of community.

What would you like to see change? Stay the same?

I’d like to see more efforts to welcome and include women of colour, Black women, aboriginal women, and women from every spiritual heritage.

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