First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.

The first Dyke March, held in conjunction with the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, called for the celebration of lesbian sexuality and the promotion of lesbian activism and visibility in the middle of an apathetic cogender activist environment.

Summary of Event

Lesbian invisibility in cogender activist movements has been an issue since lesbians and gays in the United States began organizing in the 1950’s. In the 1970’s, “gay liberation” was an umbrella term “Gay” versus “lesbian” as terms[gay versus lesbian]
“Lesbian” versus “gay” as terms[lesbian versus gay] that was supposed to mean gays and lesbians. With the advent of second-wave feminism and critiques of sexism, Sexism;in GLBT movement[GLBT movement] lesbians Lesbian feminism who felt that their agenda was being subsumed under a male agenda left to form their own movement and to demand that the term “lesbian” be used to distinguish female from male homosexuals. “Lesbian” now is used to refer to female homosexuals and “gay” to male homosexuals, in most cases but not all; some lesbian women prefer the term “gay woman” or, simply, “gay.” One can see the effects of the distinction between lesbians and gays in the name changes of cogender organizations founded in the early 1970’s. In the 1980’s, to take a few examples, the National Gay Task Force, the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles, and Gay Latinos Unidos added “lesbian” to their official names. [kw]First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C. (Apr. 24, 1993)
[kw]Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C., First (Apr. 24, 1993)
[kw]March Is Held in Washington, D.C., First Dyke (Apr. 24, 1993)
[kw]Washington, D.C., First Dyke March Is Held in (Apr. 24, 1993)
Dyke March;Washington, D.C.
Political activism;lesbians and
Political activism;marches
[c]Marches, protests, and riots;Apr. 24, 1993: First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.[2280]
[c]Feminism;Apr. 24, 1993: First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.[2280]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 24, 1993: First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.[2280]
Schulman, Sarah
Sisneros, Judy

One direct response to the problem of lesbian invisibility was the founding of the group Lesbian Avengers, Lesbian Avengers formed in 1992 by six New York lesbian activists interested in forming a lesbian direct-action group. The Lesbian Avengers soon gained a reputation for engaging in guerrilla-type “zaps,” street theater, and other political actions. According to Sarah Schulman, a cofounder, the group planned a lesbian march in Washington, D.C., as part of the 1993 March on Washington March on Washington (1993) weekend.

Great ideas sometimes manifest simultaneously. Judy Sisneros, a member of the national-level ACT UP Women’s Committee, ACT UP Women’s Committee[ACT UP Womens Committee] recalls that in late 1992, her group also began networking to organize a lesbian march; they later collaborated with the Lesbian Avengers and other Washington, D.C., groups. The first Dyke March, April 24, 1993, drew twenty thousand women. Organizers did not obtain a “parade” permit, keeping with the groups’ oppositional political ideology. According to Schulman, it was “the largest lesbian event in the history of the world.” When marchers had reached the front of the White House on their way to the Washington Monument, the Lesbian Avengers stopped and demonstrated their prowess as fire-eaters, an activity that is now a Lesbian Avengers trademark.


Sarah Schulman noted that by the summer of 1993, “the Dyke March had caught on around the country.” The first San Francisco Dyke March drew ten thousand women, while the march in New York City drew three thousand. Chicago held its first march in 1996 with one thousand women. Although the first Los Angeles Dyke March, Dyke March;Los Angeles in 1994, drew only three hundred fifty women, fifteen hundred women showed up for the march in 1997. Lesbian rights veterans from the 1970’s who have attended the dyke marches have noted that unlike the marches of the 1970’s, these later events generally have been more multicultural and multigenerational.

Attempts to create a lesbian presence during gay and lesbian pride has often generated controversy, including accusations of lesbian separatism. Some gays and lesbians have disapproved of a “separate” or “radical” lesbian event diverting attention from the “main” pride event. Even lesbians involved in organizing dyke marches sometimes disagree vehemently with one another about ideology. For example, in 1998, longtime lesbian activist and singer Alix Dobkin was invited to sing and speak at the Philadelphia Dyke March. Dyke March;Philadelphia However, after Dobkin wrote an article for Chicago’s Frontlines, discussing her belief in the importance of lesbian-only space and in her hope that the march not include MTF (male-to-female) women, she was “disinvited” by march organizers. In the end, and after much debate and acrimony, Dobkin was reinvited.

Internationally, the idea of lesbian-focused pride marches began to spread. The first Dyke March Dyke March;Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was held in June, 1995. Ireland held its first march Dyke March;Ireland in 1998. In the same year, Toronto, Canada, held its third march. As in many dyke marches, participants included dykes on bikes, leatherwomen, bare breasts, waving flags, drumming, cheering, singing, dancing, and whistleblowing.

In Japan, according to the Daily Yomiuri, “[m]ore than 200 people” participated in Dyke March, Tokyo ’97, Dyke March;Tokyo in which “women, many with buzz cuts and wearing karate uniforms or black suits, paraded along a six-kilometer route . . .[with] loud music blaring from portable stereos” and “colorful costumes” garnering “the most attention.”

Like lesbians in many other countries, lesbians in Mexico grew weary of the campiness, phallocentrism, and commercialism of the male-dominated gay pride parades and decided to affirm their lesbian identity by organizing their own dyke march. They met with resistance from some gay pride organizers, who thought the lesbian-only march would detract from the “main” parade. In spite of the opposition, the first Mexico Dyke March Dyke March;Mexico City took to the streets of Mexico City in 2003. Participating groups included Les Voz, Telemanita, Lesbianas en Colectiva, Archivo Historico Lésbico, Lesbianas Independientes, Grupo Lésbico Club 84, and Lesbianas de San Luis Potosí.

The 2003 march in Mexico City was the first lesbian-only march in Latin America. One of the organizers explained the march’s importance as an expression of visibility that aimed to dispel stereotypes and prejudice and allowed participants to be publicly proud of their lesbian identity.

Dyke marches signify an attempt to celebrate and promote lesbian activism and visibility in a cogender, sometimes politically apathetic environment, where many agendas compete. Lisa Kung, a founding member of Atlanta Avengers, noted that the dyke march in general “is about empowerment [for lesbians].” Dyke marches are symbols of lesbian pride, independence, and resistance. Dyke March;Washington, D.C.
Political activism;lesbians and
Political activism;marches

Further Reading

  • Pope, Lisa, et al. One Million Strong: The 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights. New York: Alyson, 1993.
  • Retter, Yolanda. “Dyke Marches: A Brief Herstory.” Lesbian News, June, 1999.
  • Schulman, Sarah. My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan Years. New York: Routledge, 1994.

July 2-August 28, 1963: Rustin Organizes the March on Washington

August, 1966: Queer Youth Fight Police Harassment at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco

June 27-July 2, 1969: Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

May 1, 1970: Lavender Menace Protests Homophobia in Women’s Movement

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

October 12-15, 1979: First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

October 11, 1987: Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

December 10, 1989: ACT UP Protests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

March 20, 1990: Queer Nation Is Founded

April 25, 1993: March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation

June, 1994: Stonewall 25 March and Rallies Are Held in New York City

June 19, 2002: Gays and Lesbians March for Equal Rights in Mexico City