by Caitlin Crowell
Buffalo’s 11th annual Dyke March kicks off a Pride Month and a weekend of celebrating community
This weekend Buffalo’s Dyke March will enter its second decade. Now in its 11th year, it’s older than your dog and your jeans and probably your car. After more than a decade, though, it still manages to raise eyebrows: the claiming of a public space for lesbians, the idea of a separate Pride march for women, the name of the parade, the thought that somewhere a woman is walking around topless and it’s meant for other women.
It can be easy to forget, in the light of some legislative victories, the specific difficulties lesbians face. Whether fending off legal assaults on their rights as parents and partners, or dealing with physical violence—the beatings, rapes, and murders that women worldwide often encounter once they step outside of heterosexuality—lesbians have had to craft creative and strong responses to prejudice. Few tools have been as effective as love: love of themselves, of one another, of women everywhere.
Here are some of the voices of women who are helping put on the march: Tee Fregoe is the director of Buffalo Womenservices, a longtime march sponsor; Brooke Reynolds is a student and activist, focusing on the Arabic world and prison reform; Amber Small and Kim Kilpela work at Planned Parenthood; Reverend Phoenix Halewu-Hills is a Dyke March Committee member; and Sarah Bishop is a board member of the Pride Center of Western New York.
AV: Why the Dyke March?
Fregoe: Why do lesbians, bisexual women, women who support women loving women…have to have their own gathering? One word: sexism. Unfortunately the gay community is not immune to oppressing dykes (all women). Sexism exists no matter your sexuality, class or color. We march to raise this awareness and because we refuse to be invisible.
AV: Is there a gay community?
Kilpela: Is this a real question? Of course there is! Buffalo is one of the gayest places I’ve been to. And our allies rock!
AV: What made you want to get involved in the Dyke March?
Bishop: In the words of Ani DiFranco, “I was blessed with a birth and a death, and I guess I just want some say in between.”
Kilpela: Sarah and I got together and said we really wanted to make it a more “friendly” environment this year—by adding spaces for teens and queer families, making more room for dyke art/artists, and reclaiming a day that seemed to be a second thought for most people during Pride weekend.
AV: Is this year’s parade going to be different?
Small: I think we’re going to see a much bigger event than in years past. Our planning committee has been working for months to really make the march something that people see as more than just a preview of Sunday’s parade. In the end, our goal has been to make something that can be enjoyed by a wider range of people in our community—families, teens, older couples. And I’m very excited to see our efforts come to fruition this weekend.
AV: Will this be the last Dyke March, now that there’s gay marriage in New York?
Halewu-Hills: The march and the parade are not and never were solely about marriage. It is one of the civil rights routinely denied queer people in this country. One of the many.
Reynolds: I’m proud to be a resident of New York State, especially since the passage of same-sex marriage. I think that it’s a huge step in ensuring that all people be afforded the same rights under the US Constitution—which was purportedly for exactly that purpose—I am sure that there are some in the LGBTQ community that see the passage of same-sex marriage as the last step towards gaining equal recognition under the law. However, there is a difference between equal rights and having equality. I think that the majority of the LGBTQ community understands that discrimination, ignorance, and hatred are no means erased by the passage of a law. The Dyke March is therefore not about “rights” but about equality and voice.
AV: Why aren’t you getting married?
Kilpela: Because of the over 1,130 federal rights denied to gay families.
AV: Why can’t the men and the women all parade together?
Kilpela: We do parade together. The Dyke March is not an exclusive event. It’s an event to specifically highlight the beautiful queer women in this community and their vast range of interests. It’s a day to highlight all the different ways women can be “dykes.”
AV: What do you think of lesbian separatism?
Bishop: In a patriarchal society, it important for women to develop a genuine, autonomous self-identity, irrespective of sexual identity. However, I also believe that in a hetero-normative society, a healthy community built on shared experience, mutual respect, and inclusiveness are both understandable and admirable. My biggest critique of lesbian separatism, and of a number of social theories and movements, is this: In an attempt to create equality and to free ourselves from systems of oppression, we must continually evaluate our positions and be ever mindful not to perpetuate bondage.
AV: Are you worried about encroaching consumerism—the way that marketers may just see LGBT rights as something that will help their bottom line? Is that a threat to Pride celebrations?
Kilpela: I personally like advertisement geared towards queer. I think of it as a “win-win” situation.
AV: And why “dyke”? Isn’t that offensive?
Fregoe: Reclaiming the word. Making a negative a positive.
Kilpela: Queer, dyke, gay, homosexual…it’s all fringe and will offend some. Using the word “dyke” is not something I necessary do in my daily life—but I understand the need to reclaim it from its pejorative history and move it forward as a word that can describe all women who love women, exclusively or otherwise.
Halewu-Hills: I define “dyke” as a strong woman. That is what it means to me…many women are strong and deserve to be recognized as such and not have it used against them. So the word used against us because of our strength (or the fear of us) is now being used by us to celebrate our strength.
AV: Where next? What’s the next frontier?
Bishop: Over the past year, the Pride Center has worked to elevate the position of transgendered people in our community. My hope is that we will all demand inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community and specifically address the point that there are many who identify simply as “queer.” We should move away from the dichotomy of gay men and lesbians and into the sphere where sexual and gender identities become more fluid.
Joyous and angry and sexy and funny and loud, the Dyke March will kick off at Kleinhans, head down North to Elmwood, and then from Allen to Franklin. Register to march at www.pridecenterwny.org, or just come to cheer them on. Because, as Kim Kilpela wonders, “Who doesn’t want a parade?”
Following the Dyke March, the Pride Center of Western New York will host an Allen Street Festival, from 5-10pm. The street will be closed between Franklin and North Pearl, filled with carnival games, food trucks, spaces for children and teens, and musical acts including Reign, DJ Yama, Ali Critelli and Jaime Holka, and Caitlin Koch.
Proceeds (there is a $2 suggested donation at the gate) will benefit the Pride Center.
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