An Andersonville fixture, the Dyke March heads to Pilsen.
For the first time, a major LGBT event is relocating from a North Side white gay enclave. On Saturday 28, when a multiracial mix of mostly lesbian and transgender people take to the streets of Pilsen for the annual Dyke March—the radical younger sibling of Boystown’s long-established Pride Parade—the rainbow flag will more fully embody the diversity it promises.
The complicated decision to leave Andersonville, where the march has been supported by welcoming residents and women-owned businesses, was made by a core group of about ten organizers, who began the discussion last year. “We are everywhere: in Pilsen, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Hyde Park and Andersonville. This year it is Pilsen’s turn,” says Cindy Ibarra, a lead planner, who lives in Pilsen and works in Lincoln Square at the Young Women’s Empowerment Project. “It’s all about taking those steps outside the box, which we do by just expressing and being ourselves.”
In the early ’90s, the Dyke March began in reaction to the Pride Parade, which was becoming bloated with ever-increasing numbers of corporations joining the rainbow procession in Lakeview. Some activists decided to promote women’s visibility in a public space not overrun by the ubiquitous Boystown boys, so they launched the Dyke March. Additionally, some women wanted to remind everyone why LGBT people marched in the first place: to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of late June 1969, when queers in Manhattan fought back for three nights against police harassment. Instead of floats, corporations and politicians, the Dyke March featured tight drums and lively chants. At the route’s end, hundreds of queer women and trans folk (and their allies) gathered near the lakefront for a rally and celebration with slam poets and live music.
But after 11 years of Dyke Marches, some worried that it had started to feel entrenched. “Because it’s been in Andersonville for so long, people are used to it, and it stops being activism,” explains organizer Tania Unzueta, who works as director of youth training and community programming at Radio Arte, an educational radio station serving the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods. “We were looking like a parade more and more, especially when everyone around is, like, ‘Oh, this is the Dyke March. It happens every year; don’t worry about it.’ ”
After holding community meetings in various neighborhoods and online (via the Dyke March Chicago MySpace page), Unzueta says the organizers decided to move—part of a bigger plan to continue emigrating to a new neighborhood each year. Pilsen, she says, was selected first because it boasts several gay-affirming institutions: The National Museum of Mexican Art hosts Queer Prom, an annual event aimed at LGBT Latino youth, while Radio Arte (90.5 FM) airs Homofrecuencia, the country’s first Spanish-language radio program for LGBT youth.
The march’s Spanish name, Marcha por la diversidad sexual, “protects the idea that it’s about diversity,” Unzueta adds. Though it’s especially for women and transfolk, gay men and hetero allies are also welcome “as long as they’re supportive of the mission.”
Reaction to the move has been largely positive. Linda Bubon, co-owner of Women and Children First bookstore, says that although she enjoyed seeing the annual cavalcade cruise past her Andersonville shop, “it makes very much sense to me that the march move to different neighborhoods” in order to increase lesbian visibility.
Still, Unzueta says, she’s heard some complaints; some North Siders, for instance, have lamented the distance. “You know what?” she says. “I live in Little Village, and I have to travel to the North Side all the time for gay events. Why is it such a big deal for you, this one time of the year, to travel to Pilsen?” To mitigate confusion, volunteers will be in Andersonville Saturday afternoon, redirecting anyone who hasn’t heard about the move.
Meanwhile, a few other detractors have expressed less enlightened (if no less honest) concerns about their physical safety in a neighborhood that’s not predominantly white. “It’s been very hard to see that there are people within our community that have these very racist, I would say, ideas,” Unzueta says. “And it’s also part of why we’re doing this work—precisely to bring about these conversations within the LGBT community.”
The Dyke March gathers at 1pm Saturday 28 at Halsted and 18th Sts, and steps off at 2:30pm, heading west to Damen Ave. A rally follows at Harrison Park at 1824 S Wood St.