For many people, the only Toronto Pride parade is the big one on Sunday. But if you’ve never checked out the Dyke March on Saturday, you’re really missing out. The crowd is smaller and the tone is totally different, but if you’d like to see a parade that skips corporate sponsorships and gets back to the political and community-based roots of Pride, you should definitely put the Dyke March on your agenda for next year. And while you aren’t likely to see any giant floats covered in oiled-up body builders or 50 Dorothy Gales, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything attention-grabbing.
It’s hard not to notice when a parade stops dead. At this year’s Dyke March, a large contingent of women — each carrying a pole topped with a colourfully decorated and beautifully DIY oversized vagina — did just that. As the celebratory and eye-catching group made their way down Yonge St at the head of the march, they suddenly stopped short at Wellesley and lay down in the streets, many using their plush faux-vaginas as makeshift pillows as volunteers handed out flyers explaining to bemused onlookers that they were witnessing a Queers for Social Justice die-in.
“It’s really powerful, because a lot of people don’t expect it,” explained Awasis, a young woman who participated in the die-in while her group was paused at the intersection. “When you have people come up to you and say, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ it’s a really powerful way of sending the message.” As the flyer explains, the die-in was meant to bring attention to the inequality that still exists for many queer people in Canada, including issues related to trans rights, queer refugees, sex worker rights, and the Catholic school boards’ anti-GSA stance. Despite the seriousness of the issues they were campaigning for, the Queers for Social Justice were anything but a dour presence on the street; as soon as the die-in ended, they got back to dancing in the street and joyfully waving their homemade vaginas. And in case the revelry got out of hand, there were “medics” on hand. “They have safety pins and tape and stuff if we need some repairs,” Awasis explained, “’cause we do a lot of dancing and waving around.”
Activism and community building were the orders of the day, but both were served up fun and sexy. One of the biggest hits with the crowd was a women’s boxing league that created an actual moving boxing ring, complete with a slowly shifting roped-off square and an enthusiastic referee with a whistle and a bell. Some very fierce gloved-up ladies took turns entering the ring for brief bouts to the delight of onlookers, some of whom were probably having fond flashbacks to Tara’s very queer New Orleans kickboxing career on True Blood.
While the crowds definitely don’t match the sardine-tin craziness of the Sunday parade, the Dyke March clearly holds a special place in the hearts of its many enthusiastic observers. “It’s been wonderful. This is our third year,” says Christine, who attended with her partner. “This one’s larger than last year but still the same amount of fun.” For Christine, the fact that the Dyke March is on a smaller scale than the Pride parade is actually a part of its appeal. “We won’t be around for the Sunday one,” she explained. “Too many people, too hot. We live far enough away that by the time we get home, it’s on TV, and we’re cool and having refreshments.”
But of course, there’s no reason to make a choice between the parades. Chantelle and Bianca, who’ve proudly been participating in the Dyke March for six years were planning to come back to Yonge St again on Sunday for the Pride parade — even if the Dyke March is probably their favourite. “We’re really happy that it’s starting to get as much recognition as the actual parade,” said Bianca. “The Dyke March holds a really special meaning between me and her because we’ve been doing it for so long together,” explained Chantelle. “It’s our yearly tradition, and we can’t miss it. We don’t miss the other one, either, but I think the Dyke March is a little more special to us.”
Check out Xtra‘s photos and video from the Dyke March below.