In 1993, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sponsored a March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian rights. The Lesbian Avengers decided to sponsor a Dyke March the night before the main march. Word spread like wildfire, and more than 20,000 lesbians marched in the first Dyke March on April 24th, 1993 (source: about.com).
Following this, Dyke Marches were organized in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Montreal. They were often a reaction to the more corporate and male-dominated pride events but also an opportunity for dykes to organize together and build community. Dyke Marches often take place the day before each city’s Gay Pride parade, and are generally more grassroots and radical in their mission and execution.
Philadelphia’s participation in the Dyke March tradition was sporadic until 1998 when a Swarthmore student and Lang scholar put out a call to create an annual Dyke March event in Philly. A small group of dedicated dykes quickly united to organize what has now become a fourteen-year tradition here in Philadelphia. The organizers then, as they do now, strongly believed that the march had to be inclusive and reflective of who they themselves were. The march, they said, had to be open to anyone who identified as a dyke. They wanted dykes of all abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, and any other potentially divisive categories and identities to feel welcome and proud to march with their community.
The first year, the march route led dykes from Kahn Park to Independence Hall (where the new Independence Visitor Center stands now). They kicked off the first annual march with appearances by folk singer Alix Dobkin, activist and speaker Riki Anne Wilchins, slam poet Alix Olson, and other local talented performers and speakers.
The Philly Dyke March is funded entirely by community fundraising. The Mr. Philadelphia Drag King competition (Mr. PDK) is historically and currently the most successful and entertaining annual fundraising event to benefit the March. This competition showcase was started by a group called the Grass Roots Queers. Each year’s newly crowned King won the privilege of performing at the rally and leading the march. In 2009, the Philly Dyke March organizers started hosting additional fundraising events. In fact, The Stimulus, Philly’s most diverse monthly queer women’s dance party, got its start as a Dyke March Happy Hour fundraiser event in 2009 at Stir Nightclub.
The Philly Dyke March has always had strong allies in the greater queer community. The Radical Faeries come out to Kahn Park every year to give out water ice to the attendees. Other allies join us at the park for the rally and to cheer us on along the march route.
The Philly Dyke March is volunteer-driven. Helping to organize the march is an incredible way to give back to the queer community in Philadelphia. Many different faces have graced the organizers’ meetings in the course of fifteen years, and in that time thousands of dykes have had the opportunity to take over the Philly streets as a powerful mass and to explore a different way to celebrate their pride for their identity and community.