With the Toronto Dyke March now celebrating its 10th anniversary it’s hard to imagine that the event was almost scrapped in 1999. After three years of organizing, Dyke March founders Lisa Hayes and Lesha Van Der Bij were ready to pass the organizational torch, but no one was willing to take it on.
For a while, there was talk of solving the dilemma by merging the march with Sunday’s Pride Parade.
“Lots of women phoned Pride Toronto outraged,” says Jenn Thiessen. “Apparently, I was the only one who left a call-back number.” Before she knew it she was elected to be the new Dyke March cochair.
At that time, I had recently moved to Toronto and was trying to find my place in the community. Plus, I knew Thiessen and I hated to see her struggling with the workload. I went out to a meeting and was elected cochair, too.
The most divisive issue at that time was including trans people. Many committee members argued that a flexible policy would result in bio men flooding the march. At one point half the women quit rather than support trans inclusion.
Fewer committee members meant more work. “The long hours were exhausting,” recalls Thiessen. “When I first agreed to cochair the march I was barely working, but later I had full-time work and cochairing the Dyke March felt like a second unpaid full-time job.”
Marilyn Dasilva joined the committee that year in response to Thiessen’s plea for help. “I’m a doer,” says Dasilva. “I wanted to give something back to the community. Like the rest of us I was working full time in a fairly demanding job plus trying to balance a relationship.”
Dasilva’s workload increased when she was elected cochair in 2002. “I was spending probably 50 percent of my workday doing Dyke March and Pride Toronto business as well as working to midnight most nights answering phone inquiries, answering e-mails, doing side meetings, etc. But on the flipside I met some really wonderful people and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Finding enough women to work the march continues to be a problem.
“I recruited friends for the committee and volunteer positions last year,” says Nicole Hardy, who has been organizing the march since September 2003. “But how many times can you do that before your friends either hide or run screaming when they see you coming? I hate that we struggle to get 100 women to marshal… despite the fact that thousands of women come to the march.”
Dasilva notes that working on the Dyke March has unexpected rewards. “It’s interesting to note that six, almost seven years later I’m still friends with most of the women I met while involved with Dyke March. Yes, it really is a great way to meet women.”