The Vancouver Dyke March made me lesbian. Well, not really, but it definitely helped me realize that straight life was officially out of the question for me.
As a questioning thirty-something that couldn’t quite figure out why the companionship of men made me want to bury my head in a huge bowl of potato chips, being surrounded by a right-on bevy of butchy beauties made it all make sense.
Unfortunately, this year, the dyke march – my personal catalyst and ode to dyke-dom – was nearly effaced. If it wasn’t for some quick action by some dyke-loving people to remedy adequate funding and a renewal of board members the sapphic sister-loving haven of topless women with a message that we call the Vancouver Dyke March would never have graced Commercial Drive again.
While dyke marches become a fast-growing tradition in cities accross North America (typically on the day before their Pride parades), one wouldn’t think that funding, nor enticing a line-up of keen eager beaver lezzies, would be an issue. For many cities however, a lack of funding and volunteers are crucial issues that may affect the longevity of the dyke march, in Vancouver specifically but elsewhere too.
The Dyke March is not a Parade.
The Dyke March is actually a tradition that has been around since 1981, originating in Vancouver during the Bi-National Lesbian Conference: a conference full of workshops that strengthened the Canadian lesbian movement. A second Dyke March happened again a couple of months later in Toronto, and so started the tradition.
The Dyke March, regardless of its apparent similarity to the Pride parade is in fact very different. Brianne Langille, Founder of The Calgary Dyke March is determined for everyone to understand the difference. “It’s not a parade,” she says. “It’s not for people to be on the sidelines watching. It’s about people getting involved. It’s about getting friends and family and allies and everybody marching together to raise our visibility and to basically show that we’re together in this.” They are adamant about refusal of corporate sponsorship. In order to keep it as a ‘march’ and to remain grass roots they rely on fundraising, grants, and personal donations.
The Dyke March on the outside may look like the audience of a Tegan and Sara concert, but it is important to look at what is happening on the inside to understand the importance of the dyke march to and for the lesbian community.
As mentioned, my coming out was in part due to a dyke march. It is a mixed bag of protest, celebration, strength, and camaraderie. It is a women`s march with a twist: an awareness of our double inequality (being a woman and being a lesbian). But, most of all, it is like coming home. It is, to me an organic demonstration of the harmony of sisterhood and solidarity. Yah, I said it.
Money brings the Dykes to the Yard
On April 27th of this year, the Vancouver Dyke March had a town hall meeting to discuss its potential cancellation. Its financing comes from a myriad of sources (keep in mind, unlike the Pride Parade, there is little to no corporate sponsorship, and it costs nothing to be a part of) including city grants, fundraising events and donations. Sadly, the fundraising events have been poorly attended, and the organization has had to dip into its reserves. They still needed to raise $15,000 for the event to go ahead.
Sam Levy, President of the Vancouver Dyke March explained for what the money is needed. “Our overall costs for the March and Festival are about $15,000 annually. I think it surprises people to hear that… as they likely don’t think about what is involved in organizing and presenting a dyke march. We pay for port-a-potties, permits, police support, insurance, merchandise, advertising, sound equipment, festival grounds equipment, supplies for our annual art banners, etc, etc. It all adds up!”
Thankfully, an insurgence of eager beavers joined the Board, adding some life and new ideas to this grassroots organization. The Vancouver Pride Board also stepped in by helping with some funding.
Money has also been a factor in other major cities’ dyke march events. The Ottawa Dyke March has had similar issues with a lack of funds for the associated municipal costs (they had to come up with $1000 for police presence).
“If they want to have free events, organizations like the Dyke March have to decide whether they want to grow or stay small, says special events Sgt Denis Charbonneau.”[The Dyke March] used to be a sidewalk march. If you grow, you need officers. And it’s grown to the point where they have to hire police officers.”
I wonder if the civil rights protestors, anti-war demonstrators, or the gay activists of yore had to pay for police? When did a march become a special event anyways? What does this mean for our freedom to congregate and demonstrate against inequality and prejudice?
We are how the Dyke March can be saved.
So how do we save the Dyke March? The answer is really quite simple. The only way for any non-profit, grassroots demonstration/celebration to survive is money and participation. In an ideal scenario buying the world a Coke and singing in perfect harmony would do the trick. Sadly money does make the world go around, but so does fresh energy, even for a few hundred dykes that may or may not want to march topless down a street shouting: “This is what a lesbian looks like!”
Bottom line? Get involved! Join a board, be a volunteer, donate $10.00, join your local dyke march Facebook page! The Board of Directors for any Dyke March are volunteers. No one is getting paid, and there are only 24 hours in a day. If you love the Dyke March as much as I do, you must put in the work to keep it going.