My good friend Elizabeth Cooper has a great post up at Princeton’s feminist blog, Equal Writes, about last weekend’s Dyke March in New York City. Elizabeth compares the Dyke March (which styled itself as a protest, not as a parade, unlike the general Pride parade) to last October’s National Equality March in Washington (full disclosure: I helped Elizabeth organize a delegation of 80 Princeton students to attend the NEM). She found herself much less invested in the Dyke March than she had been in the NEM:
The Dyke March, on the other hand, did not feel transformative, at least for me. Although I wanted it to be a protest, it didn’t feel like such for a few reasons. Most importantly, I hadn’t been invested in the organization of the march, and therefore hadn’t really thought about what the march meant to me – it was happening, and I felt like since I was in the city partially for Pride and consider myself an activist in some respects, I should go. Amongst the people I marched with, I felt we shared this sense of not exactly knowing why we were marching. A couple of people thought we were going to be watching a parade, rather than participating in a protest. Once they realized the nature of the march, namely that it was a protest rather than a parade, they asked what we were protesting. I ventured a vague answer about protesting homophobia, but even the question made me insecure about not being more informed about what the march was about, as a whole, and for me personally.
As I was thinking about what I was marching for the day before, I had identified what meant and means the most to me personally right now – acceptance of LGBT children by their parents and family. I thought writing a slogan encapsulating that on a shirt would be cool both during the march and as a keepsake. I am happy and proud that I took the time to invest in my idea. However, at the march, it didn’t prove as valuable for making me feel engaged. People didn’t seem to read it like they would read and interact with a sign.
Elizabeth ends on the important note that visibility of any kind is important, and I absolutely agree with her that “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” is still, in 2010, a valuable slogan. I think it’s absolutely worth underscoring that visibility is in itself a form of queer protest, and that actively and aggressively pushing queerness into the lives of straight people is more or less as radical as it comes. However, the moderate version of this idea (“Everyone knows someone who’s gay!” and coming out to your friends) and the more radical version (using the appearance of queerness to unsettle and challenge people, e.g. a public kiss-in or indeed a Dyke March) can work together very productively. It is not irrelevant that one of the slogans at Stonewall was “gay is good!”—that attitude of simple affirmation persists in the activities which commemorate Stonewall’s anniversary.
That said, I see in Elizabeth’s ambivalence about the Dyke March-as-protest a certain divorce of last weekend’s event from the history of gay activism. It seems as if something like a Dyke March sits rather uneasily in the context of the more mainstream civil rights movement that is LGBT activism today. Elizabeth asked what the march was protesting, and I think that was a good question. An easy example of the problems inherent in answering that question would be that, to judge from its name, a “Dyke March” would be protesting the patriarchal institution of marriage in favor of the beauty of wymynhood, or something from the ’80s like that; while moderate LGBT activism today supports marriage wholeheartedly as an institution same-sex couples should be able to buy into. I do think, though, that Elizabeth made a good choice with the issue she decided to promote on her t-shirt: it straddles this moderate-radical divide in a way that makes sense for 2010.
But a Dyke March still seems, sadly, like an anachronism to me, in contrast to the much more sign-of-the-times National Equality March, which listed clear objectives linked to headlining civil rights issues like marriage equality and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It makes sense that NEM would have been more energizing to Elizabeth for that reason, and not just for her personal investment as an organizer: its messaging contained much more to relate to for queerfolk of our generation, while a Dyke March seems as if it would speak largely to second-wave feminists and historians.
(cross-posted at Campus Progress)