Hundreds of women descended on the Commercial Drive area for the third annual Dyke March and Festival, Aug 5. Participants variously described the event as empowering and a chance to congregate in celebration with other women-loving women and their allies, but some observed how segregated and marginalizing Vancouver’s queer community still is.
The march itself originated at McSpadden Park, headed north on Commercial Dr, crossed First Ave and ended up at Grandview Park for a four-hour concert. It was a relatively sedate affair punctuated by the sounds of a marching band, the revved-up engines of the dykes-on-bikes contingent, sudden emergences and equally sudden disappearances of topless women and the alternative chants of “DYKE! MARCH!” and “Make friends, make friends, make friends with lesbians.”
For Michelle Walker, president of the Vancouver Dyke March and Festival Society which spearheads the event, it’s the the fruition of her musings about staging a Dyke March in Vancouver after attending what to her was the inspirational San Francisco version in 2003.
“I had never been to a Dyke March before [San Francisco]. The feeling of being among so many like-minded people was huge. It was important to bring it back to Vancouver. It’s a really good feeling to be around allies, friends and people that support you. You can make a really great day out of it, good music, set aside differences and hang out and be part of something bigger for the day. We make it so everyone is welcome.”
March participants Nancy Wilson and Auguste Mann, both in the construction business, echo Walker’s sentiments about the event’s empowering atmosphere and the opportunity it provides to build a strong sense of community. Wilson describes the event as “more of a celebration than a protest.”
At Grandview Park, nurse April Draper who just moved to the city from San Francisco, took-in the politically grounded lyrics and vocal stylings of Atlanta singer-songwriter Doria Roberts. Draper appreciates that the march/festival is “a community-based, and not a corporate-dominated event.” In San Francisco, she says, there is not a sense that individual voices can be heard.
“It’s important for youth coming up, that they see themselves reflected in society, in the community,” she reflects. “It would have made life a whole lot easier when I was coming up if I had something like this; a balance between fun and politics. It’s a venue for information and reflection and also for having fun.”
Lawyer Lara Percy sees the Dyke March as the most political of all the Pride offerings, but stops short of calling it an activist gathering.
“Its name is certainly an in-your-face one,” she says. “It’s the presence, our presence, that’s political. It’s really an Eastside event and suits the community on this side of town, you know, casual.”
For her part, filmmaker Nikola Marin suggests the event is an important opportunity for women to reflect on and become more aware of the ethnocentrism and segregation that still exists within the community.
“For as long I remember going to, or wanting to go to Pride events, and the Dyke March is included in this, it has always been scheduled at the same time as the Powell Street Festival,” she says. “And that puts some of us in the position of having to make decisions: Do we support people of colour or do we support the [gay] community? We are in the position of having to make these choices.”
Owner of Jett Grrl Bike Studio, Tracy Myerson agrees the absence of diversity is an issue but says it’s a problem in Vancouver in general.
“I think if they looked at the [musical] acts more carefully… I mean, it’s very white,” she demurs. “They should also attract more youth. I think you’ll find that youth in the [different ethnic] communities are more out, loud and proud, more so than those who are in their 30s or 40s from the same communities. Acts should be brought out to reflect that youth demographic.”