Last year's Chicago Dyke March and Rally was marred by an incident between three Jewish women carrying a rainbow flag featuring the Jewish Star of David and pro-Palestinian march organizers and attendees.
While the Dyke March itself went off without incident, during the post-march rally there was a confrontation between Dyke March collective members and the three women, who were ultimately asked to leave the event because they were reportedly upsetting some attendees by displaying their flag.
The incident sparked weeks of debate on social media, in letters to Windy City Times, and in articles around the world, especially in Jewish media and right-wing websites. It caused a schism in the community, and it's unclear what impact that might have on attendance at this year's event.
The Dyke March, which has rotated to different neighborhoods around the city, will return this year to Little Village on June 23, gathering at 1:30 p.m. at Little Village Elementary, 2620 S. Lawndale Ave., stepping off at 2 p.m. and ending at 4247 W. 31st Street, Piotrowski Park.
Started as an alternative to the Chicago Pride Parade, the Dyke March and Rally began in 1996 and since then it has grown to specifically include queer, bisexual and transgender people. The march has expanded its focus to oppressed people everywhere across the world.
According to the collective's press release, this year they are "marching in solidarity with the queer and trans communities of Palestine and to demand public outcry against Israeli pinkwashing tactics, efforts to appropriate queer liberation and weaponize it against Palestinians in the form of occupation and ethnic cleansing. Our communities, from Little Village to Palestine, are facing police militarization, occupation, surveillance and border police."
Chicago Dyke March Collective representative Melisa Stephen responded to Windy City Times' questions about this year's event, what the group would have done differently last year and their wishes for the future.
Windy City Times: What is the plan for this year's Dyke March and Rally: the time, starting point and ending point, as well as the date?
Melisa Stephen: We will be marching in La Villita again. Starting at 2620 S. Lawndale. Please visit our Facebook page for updates. A celebratory rally at Piotrowski Park will take place after the march.
WCT: Who is on the committee this year, and is there a big overlap with people who were on the committee of the 2017 Dyke March and Rally?
MS: Our collective is comprised of queer and trans Black, Brown and Indigenous people of color living in Chicago. Some of our organizers have been with us for many years and we also have some amazing new collective members that have joined this year.
WCT: Which groups/organizations are supporting the march this year?
MS: We are so lucky to be in community with so many radical grassroots organizations in Chicago. This year we are excited to be building with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization ( LVEJO ); Jewish Voice for Peace; and Queer, Ill + Okay, to name a few.
WCT: What is your official policy on flags or any other displays brought by participants or spectators?
MS: Chicago Dyke March is an anti-racist, anti-violent organization that supports the global anti-colonial struggle. We ask that folks who attend the march respect and uphold these values during the event, as well.
WCT: Are there any other rules people should be aware of?
MS: We would like people to know we are a body- and fat-positive organization. In Chicago and much of the world, people who are categorized as woman are not allowed to show their chest without risk of violence and arrest. We encourage everyone to cover their nipples as a gesture of solidarity with those whose bodies are unfairly policed and controlled.
WCT: Is there any special theme for this year's event?
MS: This is our second year in La Villita, and we will continue to build on what it means for Chicago to be a sanctuary city, especially for queer and trans people of color. Thanks to various community-led efforts and the work of Organized Communities Against Deportations ( OCAD ), the idea of a true sanctuary city is constantly being re-imagined and practiced. We also intend to uplift the struggles of Palestinians, abroad and locally. This year, it has become more imperative than ever for our collective to raise awareness of the atrocities being continually committed by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people and build cross movement coalitions to ensure that our oppressions are not siloed and are in fact intersectional. We do not consider this to be a one-time "special theme" but rather an iteration of our longstanding core values.
WCT: Are there announced speakers, performers or anything else yet for the march and rally?
MS: As always, we have a fantastic lineup that includes a variety of performance styles, ranging from hip hop, Mexican and Palestinian folk music, burlesque and more. We are so ecstatic to be partnering with Queer, Ill + Okay and showcasing the outstanding talents of McKenzie Chinn and Kia LaBeija, who along with partner Taina Larot will be performing a never-before-seen original work.
WCT: Do you have a city permit for this year's event, for both the march and the rally?
MS: Dyke March has all required city permits each and every year.
WCT: Based on what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently at the 2017 Dyke March and Rally?
MS: We are a small, all-volunteer collective with limited, completely grassroots funding, and together we put on a march and rally that draw thousands of people every year. We are striving to grow our capacity to support our communities as best we can. After last year, it is clear that we all need to engage in more intentional conversations around global anti-colonial solidarity and how all anti-racist work must inherently be anti-Zionist. Last year, there were a few folks in attendance whose politics and consequent behavior were clearly at odds with our values and culminated in an unfortunate incident that distracted from and tragically overshadowed what also happened last year: a powerful gathering of queer and trans people of color within and alongside a Latinx community that has a deep culture and history of resistance in Chicago. We hope to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future by making our politics very clear to the public and training more volunteers in de-escalation.
WCT: Do you have a message for the Jewish community? The LGBTQ+ community?
MS: Our goal every year is to hold a liberation and celebration space that centers the lives of queer and trans people of color, and we are grateful to all our community members who uplift and co-create that space with us. We hope you will join us June 23.
WCT: What do you hope this year's participants and spectators take away from the event?
MS: We hope that folks leave with a stronger sense of solidarity and understanding of the connections between oppressed people in Chicago and around the world. Our communities, from Little Village to Palestine, are facing militarized policing, occupation and surveillance.
Dyke March is a gift we want to give to Chicago, and we especially hope that people who are fighting marginalization at multiple intersections are able to enjoy a celebration of their lives in a community of color.
WCT: What are your wishes for the future of the event going forward?
MS: We look forward to continuing to build coalitions across our multiple struggles and develop caring ways of supporting and celebrating each other's resistance and resilience.
See chicagodykemarchcollective.org/ and www.facebook.com/DykeMarchChicago/ for more information.