For 8 years, I have watched and participated in the growth of Pittsburgh's Dyke and Trans March (formerly known as the Dyke March), an effort led by the steady and dedicated investment of Eli Kuti, a local feminist trans man.
I am not an event organizer. I did not shape the mission statement and I would not necessarily define myself as a radical feminist. I do volunteer as often as I can. I have tried to use the privilege I have as a white middle class, middle-aged lesbian to address things like the quagmire with the police. I am a participant, an observer and a volunteer; this reflection on the March is not intended to represent the organizers' point of view.
This is what the Dyke and Trans March means to me. I have not attended every march, but I was there for the first one, several in-between, and the most recent march.
The March's mission statement is:
The Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March is personal, it's political. We are claiming celebratory feminist space for LBTQ (lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer) wimmin and trans folks. Our realities and issues have been set to the side of the larger "inclusive" GLBT umbrella, and we've been told we must compromise. We've been told to assimilate to appropriation by corporate advertisers and sacrifice our interests to further the "greater good" of the gay community. As trans people and womyn loving womyn we are claiming this loving and political space, not only to celebrate the fierce radical spirit of the Stonewall Riots, but to remind ourselves that queers are, and will continue to be, a revolutionary force to be reckoned with. How we organize and celebrate with one another matters, our love matters, our art matters, and our queer lives matter.
The March has had its ups and downs. For several years obtaining a permit was difficult and the police simply didn't show up to provide street closures or protection. The march went on anyway, with bicyclists stopping traffic and marchers taking to the street. Of course, people called 911 and the police eventually showed up.
Eventually, there was enough internal pressure by elected allies that the police started to show up ahead of time to close the streets as required. This year they were able to work with the command staff to iron out details ahead of time and had plenty of protection, but they are still being deluged with ridiculous, unconstitutional requirements to get permission from local businesses to hold the march. That's another thing to negotiate; we don't need permission to assemble or march.
I realize some marches don't obtain permits or set up meetings with the police. From my vantage having walked down Fifth Avenue near the University of Pittsburgh and wincing as tractor trailers drove scarily close to families pushing strollers with children, the police are a necessity. Equally important, their presence is a right we have as residents of Pittsburgh and citizens of the United States engaged in lawful First Amendment activity.
We deserve to be safe. It is their job to make it so.
The march has also evolved in name to represent the inclusion and contributions of the trans* community. This holds true in other cities - some by a name change, others by inclusion. I think it is terrific and important that this happens. Yes, some dykes have dropped out or simply stopped making it a priority to attend, but the solidarity and the positive energy of those who do is essential to the hard work of building a more just society in Pittsburgh.
I march because I see a clear connection between visibility and the status quo of so-called Democrat Southwestern Pennsylvania. Southwestern PA is not a very safe or respectful place to live out loud as a queer person - even in Pittsburgh. We have a lot going for us and there has been progress, but it is a mistake to think that "it got better" so we can go home now.
We are one of the few states with marriage equality, but no statewide non-discrimination protections. Every single valid "what do we do now" site about marriage tells us we still need to do all the legal paperwork and documentation for us and for our adopted children because when we travel to West Virginia or beyond we are no longer married. Marriage equality does not solve inequality - not by a long shot.
Remember, Pennsylvania has no statewide non-discrimination protections. Polling data from Southwestern PA shows our region - outside of Allegheny County - to have the lowest approval ratings for LGBTQ legislation. We have no female elected officials in the state or federal delegations from this region. We have one openly gay man holding elected office and very few if any openly LGBTQ persons serving on authorities or commissions - or even serving in high-profile leadership roles in government. The same is true for people of color, people living with disabilities, and others who are part of groups historically marginalized and silenced by the status quo.
I march because I believe that solidarity between the dykes and the trans community and the queer community is essential for our survival. I see the greatest threat we face coming from the corporate Gay, Inc agenda, not the participation of any trans* person in the event. We have much more in common than we might think. My visibility is heightened by solidarity with my trans* siblings and neighbors. It is space that celebrates and validates all of us, nothing like the experience of PrideFest.
We need more queer parents and parents of queer youth to make this a priority for the future of their families. To recognize that oppression is interconnected and hiding behind what remnant of privilege you have is not enough to protect you or your children. We need to recognize that the first to step up when there is a need at the LGBT Community Center it is typically the trans* community, followed by the drag performers (and I recognize that there is overlap in those identities). We need to acknowledge that lesbians, bisexual folks, the trans* community, and people of color experience outrageous rates of poverty - something that makes us even more vulnerable. When I stand in Bloomfield surrounded by so many smiling faces who get that we have shared struggles even as we have different privileges, it feels good. I feel comforted and inspired and motivated to get off my ass and do more. It feels like a celebration within the struggle that also acknowledges the struggle and that is what I personally need to keep pushing ahead for myself, my family and my community.
The Pittsburgh Dyke and Trans March flourishes because of solidarity, not head counts. It grows because of the relationships people have built over the years - including with some of the police officers who protect us yearly - not because of sponsorships, headlines or big names. It thrives because it is still going strong after eight years as an all-volunteer grassroots group and because every year brings a new infusion of participants. This year it was the Breakaway Marching Band, Pittsburgh's radical marching band, making their first appearance in the march.
I don't intend to disrespect or dishonor the mission statement of the organization or the beliefs and passions of the organizers when I do disagree with them. I appreciate that they embrace me in all my privileged and simultaneously oppressed identity. I respect that they stood up to "Gay Inc" and refused to be co-opted, but had the courtesy to hear the proposal out on its own merits before rejecting it. I don't speak for the group or the organizers, but I do try to amplify their message.
I value the diversity within the local queer community and this is one of the few opportunities to come together for a shared moment of visibility and solidarity. This is a space where I might be called out on my white privilege, but find solace and comfort because of my experiences as a rape survivor. I am okay with that seeming disconnect because it is absolutely true that those two aspects of my life shape my worldview.
So in 2015, 100-200 folks will show up somewhere in Pittsburgh with a permit and, hopefully, a marching band contingent. We are visible. I hope we continue to occupy this unique space in Pittsburgh that is radical in its inclusivity as much as its demand for visibility.
In one week, Pittsburgh was targeted by Repent Amarillo, the TERF crowd and our own County Government which has rescinded domestic partner benefits. That's a lot of fronts in this battle, especially when the victories we've seen don't trickle down to all of us. Unfortunately, the attacks trickle down too.
I am grateful to each person who participated in the march for taking a literal stride toward a more just and fair society for all queers - not just those who see an immediate benefit from marriage equality. I recognize that younger folks are going to define the world for me when I am in my senior years and that is a great comfort.
I am grateful to speakers Janet Granite and Joy KMT (the text of Joy's speech can be found here) for offering us suggestions and possibilities and new ways of looking at our lives and our solidarity.
Next year, will you be there?
Here is a slideshow of photos that I took during the March. They cannot be republished without permission.