Rev Irene Monroe

Dykes March to a Different Beat

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | June 17, 2014 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: black pride, Boston, Combahee River Collective, dyke march, feminism, Latino pride, lesbian pride

boston-dyke-march-2011.jpgPride parades will take place all over the country this month, and Boston's was last weekend. Unfortunately, race and gender identity continue to be fault lines in many of our pride festivals across the country.

Long before black and Latino prides marched to their soulful and salsa beats in the late 80s and early 90s, respectively, lesbian pride marches came on the scene in the 70s. At the time, they were protest marches publicly denouncing the political stranglehold white gay men had on gay pride events, and the way lesbians -- and women of color in particular -- were excluded.

By the 1990s, dyke marches emerged. Unlike lesbian pride marches, which were not an ongoing tradition in the 70s and 80s, dyke marches are now in their third decade of existence. Boston's Dyke March celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

These marches bring to the fore not only the visibility, activism, gifts, and talents of lesbians, but they also highlight the visibility, activism, gifts and talents of all self-identified women within the LBT community.

Heather Kough, co-facilitator of this year's Boston Dyke March Committee, wrote in an email:

"We are a grassroots, all-volunteer group with a deep commitment to inclusion, meaning that participation is open to folks across the gender and orientation spectrums, people of all races, ethnicities, ages, economic backgrounds, sizes, and physical abilities. To sum up, 'The Dyke March Is For Everyone!'"

And the Boston Dyke March poster makes it a point to elaborate on what the committee means by "everyone":

"Lesbians--dykes-queers--bi-women--boychicks--tomboys--grrrls--lesbian moms--lesbianas--femmes--butches--transwomen--androgs--transmen--gay girls--bois--womanists--fat dykes--sorority girls with pearls who are sleeping together--dykes on bikes--lesbian crones--african american lesbians--rural dykes --goddesses--genderqueers--poly girls--amazons--hippy chicks--lipstick lesbians--asian dykes--lesbian avengers--dykes in wheelchairs--wise old lesbians--leather dykes-babydykes ... and You!"

At Boston Dyke March's 20th anniversary celebration I helped them, as one of their keynote speakers, to remember the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective -- a forgotten shoulder that has both shaped and informed theirs and all present-day feminist activism.

In 1974 the Combahee River Collective was founded in Boston by the boldacious act of several lesbians and feminist women of African descent. As a sisterhood that understood that their acts of protest are shouldered by and because of their ancestors -- known and unknown -- who came before them, the collective's name honors the Combahee River Raid, a resistance action by abolitionist Harriet Tubman in 1863 in South Carolina.

Tubman, in a military raid that she both conceived and directed, freed over 750 slaves. No one in U.S. military history during the slavery era, male or female, had been able to do the same.

combahee-river-collective-statement.jpgThe Combahee River Collective was not only a response to the black nationalist and misogynistic politics of the Black Power Movement, but it also excoriated the exclusionary practice of feminism. With the rise of the Second Wave Feminist Movement, which had primarily been an intentionally exclusive women's country club that spoke to Betty Friedan's feminine mystique of upper-crust white women wearing "pumps and pearls," black women -- both straight and gay -- had neither voice nor visibility.

In explaining black women's lives as interlocking oppressions, the "Combahee River Collective Statement" is one of the earliest and most lauded manifestos to unapologetically denounce single-issue agendas and politics coming out of both black males and white feminist circles, both straight and queer.

Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith were the primary authors of the statement. When Frazier, who still resides in Boston, was asked whether they knew at the time what a seminal document they wrote, Demita humbly stated:

"We wrote it as a collective. We crafted the statement at a time it was ready to be heard. The content and the fullness of it came from our conscious-raising groups and testifying with one another. Although we were young and evolving we wanted to ensure an intergenerational connection to black and women-of-color feminism."

Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of Combahee, lesbian activist Barbara Smith told Ebony magazine she's "...happy that now being called a black feminist is often considered a compliment."

As in the day of the Combahee River Collective, Boston continues to be one of the intellectual and activist circles of feminism. The Boston Dyke March is following that tradition. It is the nation's third largest and most progressive march, with over 3,000 in attendance.

Sadly, little has changed, even in 2014, in terms of the racial and gender composition of the organizational and planning committees of Pride parades across the nation. People-of-color pride festivals and dyke marches, to name just a few, have simply moved on from gay pride festivals, highlighting and celebrating their unique expressions of pride as well as our continued and common struggle for equality inside and outside of the dominant LGBTQ community.

Happy Pride!

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