The first Chicago Dyke March took place in Lakeview in 1996, and from the very beginning, its intentions were radical. That first march, its organizers said, was conceived as an alternative to the "corporate, white male dominated Chicago Pride Parade." To this day, it has no corporate sponsorships and doesn't allow police officers or politicians to participate. Its original intention was also to increase dyke visibility, which in recent years has expanded to include queer, bisexual, and transgender folks.
The Chicago Dyke March Collective, a fluctuating group of about ten core organizing members, is also explicitly anti-oppression. According to the group's website, the event is an "anti-racist, anti-violent" grassroots effort. After last year's Dyke March the collective put forth another core tenet, explicitly declaring itself anti-Zionist. It defines Zionism as "an inherently white-supremacist ideology . . . based on the premise that Jewish people have a God-given entitlement to the lands of historic Palestine and the surrounding areas."
Last year's march made international news after three participants—Laurel Grauer, Eleanor Shoshany Anderson, and a third woman whose identity has not been made public—bearing rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David altered the chant "From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go" to "From everywhere to Mexico." When they were asked to stop by both Jewish and Palestinian organizers and participants, they refused. An argument ensued over what the three marchers meant by the term "Zionism"—the Anti-Defamation League defines it as "the national liberation movement of the Jewish people in the Jews historic homeland . . . based on providing for equal opportunity for the Jewish people, like others, to have sovereignty in their land while still fully protecting the rights of minorities who live within Israel"—and eventually the organizers asked the women to leave the rally.
The dispute—and also misleading reports about what had actually happened—led some organizations and op-ed columnists, including the Anti-Defamation League, the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, and Bari Weiss of the New York Times, to dismiss the Dyke March out of hand, calling it anti-Semitic. This charge, however, doesn't ring true to some Jewish participants present at last year's march. On the event's Facebook page, Li Palombo, who identifies as an anti-Zionist "Jewish queer" writes, "I would like to put out a friendly reminder that anti-Zionism DOES NOT equal anti-Jewishness. I felt perfectly safe and accepted being Jewish at dyke march."
Stephanie Skora, a self-described "genderqueer trans woman" and "anti-racist, anti-Zionist white Jew," echoes this sentiment. "Dyke March has always been safe for Jewish people," she says. "There's never been an issue with anybody being visibly Jewish at Dyke March." Skora attended the march last year, and was one of the participants who engaged in dialogue with the three women who were asked to leave. She is also a member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a national organization that supports the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. JVP issued a statement in support of Dyke March last year.
Skora says she has every intention of attending the march again this year. "I have a Star of David tattooed on my arm and I plan on showing up being really proudly and visibly Jewish," she says.
For her part, Laurel Grauer does not plan on returning. "I don't want to go if there's only going to be agitation," she says. "I feel like I'm a well-documented Jewish lesbian Zionist at this point so I don't need to be in a parade for it for people to know."
After last year's march, much was made of the fact that Grauer was at the time employed by A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that seeks to build community with Israel. A Wider Bridge had come under fire following the National LGBTQ Task Force Creating Change Conference in 2016, which was held that year in Chicago. Anti-Zionist protesters interrupted an event hosted by A Wider Bridge and Jerusalem Open House, accusing organizers of "pinkwashing," that is, using the Israeli government's support of LGBTQ or progressive causes to downplay its human rights violations against Palestinians. An alliance of Chicago-area activist groups, including Black Lives Matter, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and JVP, accused A Wider Bridge of mischaracterizing that protest as anti-Semitic.
Grauer says she thinks tensions rose in the Chicago LGBTQ activist community following the conference and were still running high at the time of last year's Dyke March. After the march, A Wider Bridge called for the collective to apologize, writing that its response to Grauer and the two other marchers veered "down a dangerous path toward anti-semitism." A collective member responded that the group had no reason to apologize. (As of this May, Grauer is no longer employed by the organization.)
When asked last week for a statement on the march, Ronit Bezalel, communications director of A Wider Bridge, responded in part, "We believe that full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ people is only possible if everyone is at the table. A Wider Bridge works with our allies in the progressive community to ensure that no one is asked to hide part of their identity, whether Palestinian, pro-Israel or other identities."
Last year the Anti-Defamation League also voiced support for Grauer and her companions. ADL regional director Lonnie Nasatir says, "We hope that there are no recriminations for those who choose to express their identity at this year's march."
Daisy Zamora, a longtime Dyke March attendee, supports the collective's actions. "Dyke March is a time for people to have fun," she says. "It's a time to celebrate being queer, being dyke. I think if people want to bring their flags, that's where it gets interesting, because we live in a world where there are colonizers and there are those that are colonized."
Zamora says she has always felt safe and welcomed at the march. "I think it's good to say this is a safe place, and that means that your identity is respected. That also doesn't mean that folks won't be challenged if they fuck up, if they say something that's oppressive to another group."
For this year's march, the collective is making its stance on Palestine even more explicit. At a fund-raising event on May 31, collective member Sarah Youssef informed the crowd that this year's march would be held in solidarity with Palestine. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has been front-page news in recent weeks due to increased bombing and gunfire along the border with Gaza. (Core members declined to comment for this article.)
"We are marching in La Villita, Little Village, again this year, to highlight and align ourselves with the struggles of brown and black and indigenous people here in the U.S. and in Chicago: undocumented folks, folks who deal with surveillance, incarceration, overpolicing," Youssef said. "And really think about what that looks like here, what that looks like in Palestine, even though it's unfortunately all too similar. I really hope [our] community is there to celebrate and to show our resilience and strength."
If the responses on Dyke March 2018's Facebook page are any indication, this year's march will likely be as well attended as previous years. And despite everything that happened, even Grauer still believes in the collective's mission. "I know these people raise voices of people that need to be heard," she says. "Every year is a year of new beginning. I hope this is a new beginning. I hope that—whether it's Dyke March or other groups—we can look at this and think creatively at what can we do to come together, how can we find commonality, how can we be stronger and less divided." v