Mary Quintero-Wright sits in her Petworth living room surrounded by T-shirts strewn over furniture and a drying rack. She was awake most of the previous night screenprinting, she explains; half the shirts were brought by volunteers. Emblazoned on each of them is a large triangle overlayed with the word “DYKE,” in bold capital letters. The design is anything but subtle, and that’s the point. The shirts will serve as informal uniforms during Washington, D.C.’s first Dyke March in 12 years on June 7.
Outspoken solidarity has always been a central part of Dyke March, which takes place annually in a variety of cities around the United States. But, the beginnings of the Dyke March movement are deeply rooted in the District. The first ever Dyke March took place in April 1993, between Dupont Circle and the White House. More than 20,000 people took to the streets—with noisemakers and signs and a giant vagina puppet in tow— to protest against an onslaught of anti-gay legislation. Chapters of the Lesbian Avengers from all over the country carried banners with the names of their towns; chants of “We take the fire within us, we take it and make it our own” permeated the crowd.
The Lesbian Avengers, a New York-based activist collective, organized the first iteration. Members handed out 8,000 fliers the day before the event.
A direct-action focused organization, the Lesbian Avengers self-describe as “too impatient for lobbying or letter-writing.”
The 2019 Dyke March will depart from McPherson Square at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 7, the day before the Capital Pride Parade, and conclude with a rally. The exact route of the march is intentionally being withheld until the day of the event in an effort to prevent police intervention.
Because the march is pointedly not affiliated with the rest of Capital Pride, don’t expect too many parallels between the march and the rainbow-decked parade that will wind its way through Dupont and Logan circles on Saturday. This Dyke March is an act of protest as well as a community gathering. Its purpose isn’t to celebrate visibility, but, like its predecessor, to bring attention to communities who often are not recognized by large mainstream movements. Similar to No Justice No Pride (with which the Dyke March is partnering),the Dyke March adheres to the belief that all LGBTQ+ people will not be liberated until the community at-large stops allying itself with greater oppressive forces like capitalism and the police, both of which are on full display during Capital Pride.
Though Dyke March did take place in D.C. for more than a decade, it became clear early in the process the new crop of organizers would effectively need to start from scratch. When they reached out to people involved in the original D.C. Dyke March, they were met with a lot of well wishes, and little guidance. But threads of Dyke Marches past will be included. On a structural level, the march is intentionally being held without a permit on the evening before the Capital Pride parade. Both of these details echo D.C. Dyke Marches of yesteryear.
Attendees are encouraged to bring their own signage, but those being provided by the Dyke March organizers will also pay tribute to past events. Namely, images of the fire-eating dykes will appear on signs, organizerMary Claire Phillips says. Performative fire-eating has been linked with the Lesbian Avengers since the early ’90s, when activists did so to honor Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock, a lesbian and a gay man who died after a Molotov cocktail was thrown into their apartment in Oregon.
New York City’s Dyke March is perhaps the most well known, and is serving as a model of sorts for D.C. While attending last year’s event, Quintero-Wright noticed the glaring omission of lesbian representation in D.C.’s current pride festivities.
“This is a part of pride during which we feel so seen; there aren’t any corporate sponsors, there are no floats, there are no banks or police involved,” she says. “It’s really just queer people—specifically lesbians and queer women— but also non-binary dykes, gender nonconforming dykes. It is people that just identify with the movement. It was cool seeing ‘us’ in such large amounts, and it just isn’t something we have seen here.”
From its beginnings more than two decades ago, the Dyke March has always fought against oppression, and the D.C. march will follow in that tradition. At a general body meeting earlier this year, attendees selected Dykes Against Displacement as this year’s theme. An area of engagement is needed, explains Christen Boas Hayes, who’s spearheading community outreach, because “a lot of times, parts of the queer community … are aware of things like gentrification, but may still not even be super engaged or aware of what is happening to the broader groups in D.C.”
Donations are currently being collected and will be during the actual march, as well.
“Historically, at the end of the march, right before the rally, there are marchers with pillowcases people throw money into. That money is donated to activist groups,” Quintero-Wright explains. This year, funds raised will be shared equally among No Justice No Pride, One DC, HIPS, Empower DC, Casa Ruby, and Black Lives Matter DC.
The grassroots ethos of Dyke March even extends to the more mechanical details of the event. As there will be no planned police involvement, anyone interested can train to be a marshal, and help to facilitate the actual marching.
“I’ve never organized a march before, I just feel very strongly about it,” Quintero-Wright explains. “I didn’t know anything about this before starting a Facebook event and just seeing who was gonna show up and also be interested in bringing it back. All of [the organizers] are passionate about it, but no one has experience like this.”
The outreach won’t conclude when the march does. Organizers see the D.C. Dyke March as the beginning of a much larger movement. Six months down the road, they hope alliances will have been formed and strengthened with housing and LGBTQ rights groups. But even now, as a movement begins to bloom, significant progress has been made.
Those who’ve attended or even passed by the Capital Pride Parade know it is a spectacle. The Dyke March doesn’t expect comparable turnout to the Capital Pride Parade—the Washington Blade estimates tens of thousands of people attended last year’s parade—but news of the march is getting around even without advertisers or sponsors. A new crop of people attend each biweekly organizing meeting, and almost two thousand individuals are interested in the Facebook event.