Saturday morning was hot. Very hot.
And the scorching heat had people grabbing any slip of shade they could find at McSpadden Park, the starting point of Pride weekend’s Eastside Dyke March.
The sixth annual installment of that event looks sparse and unpromising at 11:30 am, as people gather to make signs and add their mark to the main banner. MC Dianna David is working hard to get the mini crowd excited and chanting as they wait to walk, but it’s not really taking. It looked like the heat got the better of Vancouver’s lesbian community. But half an hour later, the group’s up out of the shade, bigger and ready to march for lesbian pride.
Last year saw the number of Dyke March participants jump from 2004’s estimated 300 participants to around 4,000.
“It was really great to see people this year, mostly because of the heat, so it was really nice to see that we still managed to get a good crowd,” Dyke March and Festival board director Sam Levy said. “We absolutely consider it a success.”
The group of dykes and their supporters make their way down lesbian-centric Commercial Drive with parasols, hand-painted signs and long rainbow flag in hand. “I like dykes!” is the standard chant and David is smack in the middle of the marchers, daring them to “take off all your clothes” a la Nelly.
“We don’t have bikes, but we do have boobs!”
The march makes its way down the street to settle at Grandview Park where this year’s post-trek concert lineup included Kim Kuzma, Sarah Wheeler and the Black Parade Kings.
The march-and-festival combination is the product of a non-profit organization completely independent of other Pride events.
To many in attendance, it’s the neighbourhood-oriented, family-like feeling that brings them back every year, compared to the larger spectacle of the Pride Parade.
“There are lots of other things that try to pull me away,” says 25-year-old Naomi Moses, “but I keep coming back.”
“I think it’s really one of the only grassroots, independently organized events. It’s just a group of people marching. It’s not very corporate. This is much smaller and much more about the people and less about the companies.”
“It feels like a community,” says newlywed Jennifer Honey, 33, who got married just last week. “You might not know everybody here but I know that everybody is an ally.”
She and her spouse Risha Golby, 36, came to celebrate what they call Wedding Part Nine, a continuation of the party. Wearing the same metallic bikinis they wore on their wedding day, they love the idea of sharing the moment with the community.
“It definitely is more intimate, especially when you get to march down the street. It’s more political than a parade, with Madonna blaring and all that.”
“Oh, I miss the Madonna!” Golby pipes up.
“People are friendlier, I think,” says second time marcher Cristian Cano, who’s here with Jeff Proctor supporting friend Lisa McKinnon.
“It’s not like Pride. Pride is more like a big party.”
To Proctor, “it feels like the lesbian community has more of a sense of community than a lot of guys.
“I think it’s important for the gay male community to show support, get involved with the community, too,” he adds.
With no floats, no vehicles, and less-than-flashy signs, the theme to many becomes more about support and visibility. It is politically charged and participatory, and less so about being a spectator. Women are marching to be seen.
“You guys are making a beautiful statement,” says Pam Connelly from Connecticut, “and I’m honoured to be a part of that.”
The still jet-lagged Connelly flew in the day before the march, and is visiting the West Coast for the first time.
“Everyone is just allowed to be themselves, which is beautiful. It’s all about acceptance and women’s empowerment, and we’re tough dykes. We’re beautiful dykes.”
Calgary-based Sunny Anderson, 20, lost her voice with all the excitement. Along with friend Shay Leitner, 19, from Edmonton, she spent the weekend living the dream of “walking in a sea of girls.”
“Being from Calgary, it’s not as big. The gay scene here is incredible. It makes me want to move out here.”
“Everybody’s really open,” adds Leitner.
“Yeah, and they’re all different. Back home, everybody looks the same.”
“Everybody’s creative. Their styles, everything. And they don’t give a shit and that’s great.”
At the festival, that broad spectrum of styles and personalities was on full display: couples in chrome, bikers in leather, families with their dogs seeking shade in front of and behind the stage.
Mothers who marched in past years hid from the heat at the end of the march this year. And the babies are taken along and taking part.
“I really enjoy the fact that there is an event on that side of town with a very family-focused, inclusive energy and space that happens,” Levy says. “My thrill, because I’m always working at Grandview Park, is seeing the crowd come in and feeling the energy level. It’s not a nightclub. There’s no alcohol. It’s not licensed. It’s accessible for everyone to get to the park, to see, to listen, to participate and be a part of it.”
Third-time march veteran, River Glen, is wheelchair-bound and finds it hard to make her way to Pride happenings. But the open march on the Eastside gives the 55-year-old and others an easier way to take part.
“I like to participate as much as I can in the community, but I do have a disability so my energy level gets pretty low,” she notes.
“I live here and I don’t have to take a bus and I can just come to this event. When I miss things downtown or whatever I get kind of depressed, but when I can get to things I can just ride my scooter over to, that’s pretty cool. I always feel more visible as a complete human being,” she adds.
“I think the next step for us is probably a lot more participation and involvement from the community from a standpoint of contributing to the board, fundraising, donations, volunteering, all those kinds of things,” Levy says. “It’s been a pretty consistent group of four or five people putting on the event for the past two or three years. I think it would be great to see fresh new faces, people coming out and joining the board, getting involved and wanting to play a part contributing to the fundraising that we do throughout the year,” she concludes.