Pride parades will take place all over the US – and indeed all over the world – this month, and Boston’s was this weekend.
Race, unfortunately, continues to be one of the fault lines in many of our Pride festivals across the country. As is gender identity.
Long before black and latino Prides marched to their soulful and salsa beats in the late 80s and early 90s, respectively, Lesbian Pride marches came on the scene in the 70s. And they were protest marches publicly denouncing, at the time, the political stronghold and exclusionary practices of ‘Gay Pride’ events – as Wikipedia correctly notes – ‘by white gay men at the expense of lesbians in general and women of color in particular’.
By the 1990s, Dyke Marches emerged. Unlike Lesbian Pride marches (which were not an ongoing tradition in the 70s and 80s), Dyke Marches are now in their second decade of existence. This year marks exactly Boston’s 20th anniversary.
These marches bring to the fore not only the visibility, activism, gifts and talents of lesbians, but they also highlight the visibility, activism, gifts and talents of all self-identified women within the LBTI community.
Heather Kough, co-facilitator of this year’s Boston Dyke March Committee, wrote in an email: ‘We are a grassroots, all-volunteer group with a deep commitment to inclusion, meaning that participation is open to folks across the gender and orientation spectrums, people of all races, ethnicities, ages, economic backgrounds, sizes, and physical abilities. To sum up, “The Dyke March Is For Everyone!”’
And the Boston Dyke March poster makes it a point to elaborate on what the committee means by ‘Everyone!’:
‘Lesbians – dykes – queers – bi-women – boychicks – tomboys – grrrls – lesbian moms – lesbianas – femmes – butches – transwomen – androgs – transmen – gay girls – bois – womanists – fat dykes – sorority girls with pearls who are sleeping together – dykes on bikes – lesbian crones – African American lesbians – rural dykes – goddesses – genderqueers – poly girls – amazons – hippy chicks – lipstick lesbians – Asian dykes – lesbian avengers – dykes in wheelchairs – wise old lesbians – leather dykes – babydykes… and you!’
As Boston Dyke March celebrates its 20th anniversary, I helped them, as one of their keynoters this year, to remember the 40th anniversary the Combahee River Collective – a forgotten group that has both shaped and informed theirs and all present-day feminist activism.
In 1974 the Combahee River Collective was founded in Boston by the boldacious act of several lesbians and feminists women of African descent. And as a sisterhood that understood that their acts of protest are shouldered by and because of their ancestors – known and unknown – the collective’s name honors the resistance action by abolitionist Harriet Tubman in 1863 in South Carolina, known as the Combahee River Raid. Tubman, in a military raid that she both conceived and directed, freed over 750 slaves. No one, male or female, in US military history during slavery had been able to do the same.
The Combahee River Collective was not only a response to the Black Nationalist and misogynistic politics of the Black Power Movement, but the collective was also excoriating the exclusionary practice of feminism.
In explaining black women’s lives as interlocking oppressions, the Combahee River Collective Statement is one of the earliest and most lauded manifestos to unapologetically denounce single-issue agendas and politics coming out of both black male and white feminists – straight and queer – circles.
Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith were the primary authors of the statement. Did they know at the time what a seminal document they wrote? Demita who still resides in Boston humbly stated: ‘We wrote it as a collective. We crafted the statement at a time it was ready to be heard.
‘The content and the fullness of it came from our conscious-raising groups and testifying with one another. Although we were young and evolving we wanted to ensure an intergenerational connection to black and women of color feminism.’
Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of Combahee, lesbian activist Barbara Smith told Ebony Magazine she’s ‘…happy that now being called a black feminist is often considered a compliment’.
As in the day of the Combahee River Collective, Boston continues to be one of the intellectual and activist circles of feminism. The Boston Dyke March is following that tradition. It is the nation’s third largest and most progressive march of its kind with over 3,000 in attendance.
Sadly, little has changed, even in 2014, in terms of the racial and gender composition of the organizational and planning committees of Pride parades across the nation.
People of color pride festivals and Dyke Marches, to name just a few marginalized groups in our LGBTI communities, have simply moved on from Gay Pride festivals – highlighting and celebrating their unique expressions of Pride as well as our continued and common struggle for equality inside and outside of the dominant LGBTI community.