Dyke March Collective member Alexis Martinez, on June 27, offered her group's perspective on the events of June 24, when three Jewish women became involved in a dispute with other participants at a rally at Piotrowski Park following the 2017 march.
Windy City Times also spoke with Laurie Grauer, one of those women. Grauer, who is Midwest director of the advocacy organization A Wider Bridge, which fosters relationships between the American and Israeli LGBT communities, maintains that she was asked to leave because of her Pride flag, which had a Star of David imprinted on it. Collective members assert that Grauer was disruptive during the event.
Windy City Times: Why did you contact Dyke March officials the night before, and what understanding on the Collective's stated position on Israel/Palestine did you already have? With that position, why did you still want to be part of the march?
Laurie Grauer: I sawnot on the Dyke March Facebook event page, not on the websitebut in social media elsewhere some comments going back and forth about anti-Zionism. I reached out affirming that I planned on coming, as I had for the past 10 years, with my Jewish Pride flag, and indicated that I wouldn't be wearing anything Israel-related. I'd just be coming and showing my pride as a lesbian Jew. [Martinez] said in the text, 'That's fine, I even remember seeing your flag in previous years and there's never been any problems.' It was confirming that I'd be doing what I've always done.
In this conversation, Alexis talked about there being a 'Free Palestine' and that's not in contradiction with what I believe. I believe there should be Palestinian country with a sovereign Palestinian state, with an Israeli state as well, with the two existing side-by-side, ideally at peace. I didn't think that excluded me. I didn't know beforehand that they had said that they were explicitly anti-Zionist. I appreciated a number of things that they said they stood for, for example, halting deportations and rights for people of all different relationship statuses. As far as their website or Facebook page, there was nothing on there talking about Zionism. If people had approached me, I'd always be open to conversation, but otherwise I'd just march and talk, be with people who I'd seen and marched with in the previous years.
WCT: Were you there on your own volition or as a representative of A Wider Bridge?
LG: I was there of my own volition, because I have marched for over the past 10 years. Yes, I am Midwest manager for A Wider Bridge, where I've been working since August 2015. I'm also a member of various Jewish communities and various LGBT communities here in Chicago. I sit on boards. I am a member of various congregations and community think-tanks. I'm also someone who's grown up living in Chicago, I'm someone who does archery. I'm many thingsI'm not only 'A Wider Bridge' just because I work for them. All these things that I am are closely tied to the local Jewish and queer communities, so that's why I march in a women-led space for people of different gender-identifications. I march for social justice because I'm also a social worker, and I march with a rainbow flag with a Jewish star because that identifies the communities I most closely identify with.
WCT: But A Wider Bridge did publicly respond to what happened. Why did they step in?
LG: Yes, I'm an employee of theirs, but, beyond me, it's the idea that people were saying, 'If you are a Zionist, you can't be here,' along with the idea that this was an anti-Semitic action that took place, because people saw the Jewish star and made assumptions about me, and excluded me, when this took place. That's where this all started from, and came out only when I was approached [at the rally]. Our mission is equality in Israel and equality for Israel. In the 'equality for Israel' piece is a space, when there's an opportunity, to have a nuanced dialogue on Israel, saying that you should be accepted and not excluded because you believe there should be an Israeli state. That's why they felt the need to step up. That goes hand-in-hand with the portion 'equality in Israel' because it's our job to speak up for the people in Israel in the LGBT community who are working every day to make Israel equitable for all, for people in Israel and for people in Palestine as well.
WCT: The Dyke March collective maintained that you were disruptive at the rally, changing words in the chants and antagonizing people verbally. Martinez said, "The Jewish contingent kept agitating and being aggressive about presenting a pro-Zionist position to Palestinian women." She also stated that this was "never about the flags." How do you respond to that? Was it your intention to disrupt?
LG: No. There were three of us. You have to question how three people could come to disrupt a march of 1,500 or 2,000 people. We were simply coming to march. I did not change any words that were being said. If there were ones I didn't agree with, we stayed silent and that was it. As we walked to the park, and people saw this flag, that's when people automatically came up to us. We weren't going up to people and saying they should be Zionists. They were coming up to us and treating us differently, looking at us differently, based on the flags we carried. When questioned, or told what the symbol stood for, then absolutely, I spoke up.
When Alexis approached me, she had been informed by people who perceived the situation a certain way. And when she saw me, my temper was flared because of the people interrogating me about my beliefs, and telling me that I had to leave because of a flag that I have carried for ten years.
WCT: Were you actually ejected from the rally?
LG: They were trying to eject us. At one point, after confrontation, I furled up my flag and was trying to reach a friend on my phone, someone who'd come with me and I wasn't leaving without her. There were drums going, but I said, clearly, that I was waiting for her. When she came, we stepped off the green and stood around on the sidewalk trying to collect our thoughts and think about what we'd been through. Several times, people told us to leave, and we eventually did before the end.
WCT: The Dyke March became the object of much scorn after the news broke. What are your thoughts on the march continuing? Would you want to see it shut down as some commentators and community members called for?
LG: I wouldn't want to see the Dyke March shut down. If I felt that, I wouldn't have been marching in it as long as I have. This is a place where you see women, people of other genders and identities, religious or non-, everything in-between marching together. They are raising awareness about issues affecting our city and nation. People who feel they don't have a voice, who feel oppressed, can actually raise their voice. I consider myself a part of that.
This is supposed to be a space about intersectionality, about how all the things that make us up affect how we are seen by society. That speaks to many people and this can be a prime place to show all the different shades and interpretations of intersectionality if people aren't excluded.
There was actually a really great article in the Forward on this, by Jenna Shaw. She wrote, "This addresses a deeper issue about genuine intersectionality and inclusion within the queer community, as there is a fine line between full inclusion and uncomfortable inclusion."
Even if they started out with uncomfortable inclusion, but that we could walk together, imagine what we could do with full inclusion.
WCT: This is at least the second time since last year, the first being Creating Change, where controversy came about in Chicago because of differences between activist factions in events touching upon Palestine and Israel. What kind of conversations do you think need to take place?
LG: With Creating Change, it was a national organization that came to Chicago. Once the conference was over, they may have come back for an event or two, but then they were gone. This is something that happened on the ground here in Chicago and involved Chicago activists. I think there is an opportunity for local voicesleaders in the LGBT community, leaders in the Jewish communityto come together on the local level first, about what these social justice passions may be, and how we identify, "That's who we are." How can we find ways together? Whether the term is "pro-Palestine," "pro-Israel," "Zionist," "anti-Zionist." We have these wordsput them off to the side, and then what do they mean? Can we find commonality? That's an opportunity we have here that we didn't have with Creating Change since it was an outside organization. Again, since it's local players here, it's time for local leaders to step up from these communities and try to bring people together. I don't think anyone is opposed to that.
WCT: Anything else?
LG: I was horrified to learn people are getting death threats over this. I very much want that to stop. Whatever happened on that day, physical violence is never something that came up. No one's life was put in danger. Tensions rose, but no violence was threatened and I definitely want that to stop. Dyke March should not be receiving death threats. No one should. There's always someone on the other side of the screen.
Also, I've heard that people are threatening the Windy City Times, and that needs to stop as well. I recognize that the Windy City Times is a community newspaper, the only newspaper usually covering our issues and we need that. There are times when I'm not happy with how things are covered and that comes with having a community newspaper. This incident is bringing up a lot of feelings and a lot of emotions. It's bringing up conversations and that's great. But threatening with violence is not the answer, and if my words mean anything, and can get that to stop, that needs to stop right now.
There's a reason why the symbol of the LGBTTQQIAAP community is a rainbow. We all come bearing different expressions, but we are most visible when we stand together. There's a reason why there's an old cultural adage, "two Jews, three opinions." We will never agree on everything, but we can progress when we engage and talk with one another.
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