The Queer Issue
Another national march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights was looming, but lesbian concerns were invisible. A group of San Francisco lesbian and bisexual women from Women Against Imperialism, Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, and ACT-UP put their organizing experience from civil rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement and women’s liberation together and put out a call for an all women’s march.
The idea was controversial. No one had ever proposed a separate march for lesbians before. They planned it for the night before the national march in order not to compete with the big event.
Today, “The Dyke March” as a title seems normal. Back then, the name came across as confrontational. “We wanted to make it clear this was for women and we wanted it to be a little edgy," remembers Lisa Roth, known as the “mother” of the San Francisco Dyke March.
Once the idea was born, calls went out to women in Chicago, L.A., New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia. WAC and the Lesbian Avengers, who had plans to eat fire in front of the White House, agreed to participate.
For women who have organized more marches than many care to consider attending in a lifetime, the very first Dyke March still lights them up with joy. "We expected 1,000, maybe 5,000 women," said Roth. "We brought one bullhorn from San Francisco." Twenty-thousand dykes marched out of Dupont Circle.
We were in the streets—wild, loud, outrageous, with no permits and all women. The police sent 10 cops and were overheard saying, “We underestimated them.” It was a turning point in creating lesbian visibility.
We returned to our respective cities and started organizing local Dyke Marches. Today, links to annual events in 21 cities in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Mexico are listed on San Francisco’s Dyke March page. Judging by the lack of coverage the Dyke March gets, its relevance remains.
Judy Gerber is a freelance writer in San Francisco and one of the original Dyke March organizers.