“It’s a way for her to meet girls,” laughs Vancouver Island resident Natasha Koch of her friend Shirley.
The women, both of Nanaimo, are two of thousands participating in the fifth annual Vancouver Dyke March and Festival on Commercial Dr, Aug 2.
“It’s a statement of unity. I’ve never taken part in anything like this before,” says Shirley, a first-time Dyke Marcher who says attending the march is her way of coming out.
The excitement began just after noon, as local lesbian organizations, advocacy groups, dykes, allies and spectators spilled out of McSpadden Park and onto Commercial Dr. The march concluded a few blocks later at Grandview Park, where a festival full of entertainment, food, Pride and visibility awaited.
For annual march participant Bridget Coll, the day means recognizing the progress dykes have made in their fight for human rights.
“I want to support the people who are involved in being who they want to be,” the 74-year-old says. “I want to be a part of that because that is who I am.”
Gretchen Dulmage and John Yano proudly display their Multi-Union Pride Society banner as they prepare to march along Commercial Dr towards the park. “I think it’s important that women have a march during Pride festivities,” says Dulmage.
“It’s really important that people know that LGBT people are everywhere —including the unions and that unions support LGBT members. Being somewhat of a minority, I feel it is important to speak up for minority rights,” adds Yano, who is Japanese-Canadian.
Dyke March vice-president Michelle Walker says she’s thrilled with this year’s turnout. She estimates the march and festival attracted nearly 5,000 participants.
“It’s so much bigger this year. You can’t see the grass,” she says as the marchers pour into the park and settle in for an afternoon of entertainment and community.
Walker is also impressed with the number of out-of-towners in attendance. “There are people here from Calgary, Paris, France, California and Toronto. Pride week is inclusive of everyone, but the Dyke March is for queer woman. It builds community. It’s so empowering,” she says.
Walker thinks the Dyke March is starting to gain more recognition and hopes that translates into an annual increase in the number of participants. “We’ve created it with expansion in mind,” she notes.
But with an annual budget of $15,000 and the majority of it raised through the March’s annual fundraising events (Diva’s Den and the Hot N’ Horny burlesque shows), Walker says the grassroots organization desperately needs donations if it is to survive.
Eighteen-year-old Connor Prau of Calgary volunteered as a marshal in the march and thinks Vancouver is much more progressive than Calgary’s “underground” queer scene.
“My friends here are my family. The support with the younger generation and the older generation is a big deal,” she says.
Prau’s friend and fellow dyke, 23-year-old Che Bellerby of Vancouver, agrees. “It shows how open and accepting Vancouver is —and you can hardly get that anywhere else in the world. Some people would be killed,” she adds.
Ellen Woodsworth and her partner, Jo Thomas, are celebrating Pride and Thomas’ 65th birthday by attending the march. “To me [the march] represents freedom to be who I am for a few hours,” says Woodsworth. “It’s wonderful to be able to walk with so many woman and allies in the community.”
Both Woodsworth (who is seeking a COPE nomination to run for city council again this fall) and Thomas agree that this year’s march was larger than in past years. But they also believe dyke-focused events are typically smaller and blame the wage gap, which they say limits lesbians’ ability to spend on entertainment.
“Women just don’t have the same salary as men,” Woodsworth says. “Two women have a two-women salary and two men have a two-men salary.”
East Van gay resident Gerry Thuring sits on a bench in Grandview Park with two friends from Seattle. He describes Commercial Dr as the “lesbian community” and all three agree the festival is like a “family picnic.”
Thuring believes there is a distinct difference between how some queer men and woman define Pride. “The lesbians have spearheaded the political movement. While we were out having sex, they were doing the work,” he jokes.
Morgan Brayton, queer comedian and festival MC, also acknowledges the differences between Pride events. “I love the Pride parade but it’s very male dominated,” she says. “This [Dyke March] is a great chance to raise visibility and celebrate our community.”