With Pride Month Comes Dyke Marches

For many, dyke is a negative word used to insult and oppress lesbians. Whether it’s supermodel and athlete Anna Rawson referring to female golfers as unattractive “dykes,” or hundreds of folks using the word “dyke” negatively on Twitter, the word packs an emotional punch.

But in an effort to reclaim the word, many lesbians prefer to identify as dykes. In the coming month, as pride parades take place around the country, there are also plenty of dyke marches. Dyke marches can be found in many cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, just to name a few.

From personal experience, the dyke marches look like a meeting of a wide range of women, hundreds of enthusiastic and loud people gathered to march for the visibility of dykes. All types come to dyke marches — butches, femmes, bois, athletes, and topless women, among others. While dyke marches initially only included lesbians, they have become more inclusive and now often include bisexuals, intersex people, and transgender people.

But are dyke marches necessary? Wouldn’t focusing on a lesbian presence in the gay pride parade result in more visibility and show the diversity within the LGBT community? And just why do these marches embrace the word “dyke” despite its negative connotations?

A SheWired article listing reasons to march in a dyke march wasn’t entirely convincing. Apparently, it’s important for lesbians to get a boys-in-speedos free zone, and attending the march is worthwhile to see topless women.

That doesn’t really sell it for me. But the SheWired article does bring up one important point. A dyke march is just for dykes, and therefore politically separate from gay pride parades and festivals. And having separate political marches can be beneficial for specific groups within the LGBT community.

On this point, it’s worth noting that dykes aren’t the only group who hold separate marches in addition to pride parades. In Washington, D.C., transgender people partake in Capital Trans Pride, and in San Francisco they partake in the Trans March. Perhaps, similarly to these transgender marches, a separate lesbian march is useful for highlighting issues pertaining to lesbians that are often ignored by the LGBT community.

Despite the LGBT name, our movement is often centered around gay men. When the LGBT community discusses “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for example, there’s a tendency to focus on gay men more than lesbians. Similarly, last week a blogswarm took place and numerous organizations worked hard in efforts to push the Food and Drug Administration to lift a ban on gay male blood donations that has been in place for several decades.

While these two issues are certainly injustices, they are often dominated by men. Thus, holding a political march independently from the rest of the LGBT community can give lesbians a chance to raise awareness about lesbian issues and to increase overall lesbian visibility.

Ah, but does having such a march require using a word that some people find offensive? Has the word dyke successfully shifted from a negative connotation to a positive one? Would lesbians be better served using a word that’s more inclusive of allies, such as bisexuals and transgender people?

And on those questions, we’ll likely fall all over the spectrum. But regardless of whether it’s called a dyke march, lesbian march, womyn march or more, it’s important for lesbians to have an avenue to raise lesbian visibility. These marches are a valuable way of showing the LGBT community, and the community at large, the presence of lesbians and the importance of political activism centered around lesbian issues.

Photo credit: jordan_rubenstein