Women and trans folktaking part in this year’s Dyke March may be better able to enjoy the festivities thanks to a plan by activists to discourage hecklers and oglers.
“The Dyke March is something for women, by women, and some men come and try and make it about them,” says intervention coordinator Liat Mandel. “They seem to think that the women are on parade and display for them, where obviously they are not.”
Historically, the Dyke March has been plagued by crowds of men lining the parade route with cameras in hand, presumably in the hopes of snapping shots of bare-breasted babes or girl-on-girl action.
Mandel got involved in the initiative after reading a call to action on the social networking website Facebook posted by University Of Toronto student Shaindl Diamond.
“I would hate to see this day threatened by straight men who think they have the right to do as they please at the expense of our equality and safety,” says Diamond, a PhD student in counselling psychology
“I remember my first year at Pride, there was this guy harassing queer women couples who were leaving the festivities…. I remember feeling super pissed off and angry. My girlfriend at the time yelled at the guy. It felt good to yell back and to realize that we were in an environment where yelling back is actually safer than in the everyday world, because of the number of people at Pride who would support standing up to this kind of guy.”
Diamond says she’s pleased at the interest the initiative has generated and says it shows people are concerned with what goes on at the march and want to do something about it.
So far more than 40 people have volunteered to be a part of the informal Dyke Day patrol. They’ll be on the lookout for derogatory, harassing or obscene remarks directed at Dyke March participants and will be ready to inform disorderly spectators they are not welcome.
Although plans haven’t been finalized yet, Mandel says volunteers may be put into teams of five or six people to cover more ground. Strategies will include talking to the men and attempting to educate them as to how their behavior negatively affects the women and trans people taking part in the march.
In addition, there is a crew of queer men who have volunteered to hit on unruly men to show them how it feels to be the target of unwanted attention. One such volunteer, Ralph Hamelmann, is hoping that more queer men will get involved.
“I would really love to see a strong show of gay men who support women and who can address this issue by keeping an eye out for these kinds of predators,” says Hamelmann, who is also the organizer of the queer retro party Screww.
He says more men need to stand up for their fellow queers.
“As a community we need to deal with this together,” says Hamelmann, “and because it’s happening at the Dyke March doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect men, too. We have to look after each other.”
The group Antiracist Action (ARA) has also offered assistance to the grassroots initiative.
“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the people being oppressed, exploited and degraded to constantly have to defend themselves,” says ARA’s Shane Martinez. “It should be people who are their allies who are out there and standing in solidarity with them and ensuring that doesn’t happen.”