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Project Voices: SF Dyke March

Celebrating 25 years this year, the San Francisco Dyke March brings dyke communities together to celebrate unity, raise consciousness, and be visible. The march and rally advocates justice for lesbians globally, by advocating against oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty. The annual march occurs during the week of Pride celebration, and falls on Saturday, June 24, this year. Check out the Dyke March’s compelling Why We March page.

We spoke with event Co-Chair Elizabeth Lanyon about the year-long work that goes into a one day event, why we need the march more than ever during the current administration, inspiration she draws from Black Lives Matter, and how skills learned via Community Initiatives can be useful both at work and at home!

What’s ONE thing you wish other people knew about your project and its cause?

That this is an all-year-round project! People often see the Dyke March as a one day thing, but it takes us the entire year to plan. In order to get the point where you can have the logistical conversations with your committee, you have to have done the relational work with them. We meet monthly for a Sunday afternoon fundraising party. And we encourage folks to get together outside of meetings too. This is a community-driven project that takes a lot of heart, trust, personal energy, and commitment. There’s a ton of work that goes into making that one day special!

And it’s not free! It costs close to $40,000. To rent and clean up the park is about $20,000, porta potties are $7,000. We tried to skimp on the cleanup fees before, but it wasn’t worth it as the park was left in bad shape. Also, we give stipends or honorariums to our artists, speakers, and performers, with help from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Our community of queer activists often don’t have access to mainstream opportunities, so being featured at the event is important and giving a stipend makes their contribution more official and valued.

You’re celebrating 25 years and a lot has changed in the past few years, what makes the Dyke march extra relevant this year?

One thing that has become very apparent in San Francisco is that we, as lesbians, have lost all of our spaces. There’s no place we can go and say: this is a lesbian bookstore, this is a lesbian neighborhood, this is a lesbian restaurant– it just doesn’t exist anymore. That loss of physical space and identity is really, really hard and sad. For whatever reason, we’ve been pushed out over and over again.

With this current administration, I see a direct disinvestment and lack of care for women. Something that unifies us as lesbians is that we’re women. As executive orders come down, there’s fear and discomfort in wondering if we’ll still be safe. In past years I have never felt like my government would intentionally do harm to my community, but that’s changing. In San Francisco we’re great at protecting our people, but I worry that the protection is being chipped away. Other members of the lesbian community and I have experienced harassment in The Castro. To me this confirms that 1) we don’t have a space that we’re welcome in 2) the LGBT community may appear to be a part of the same rainbow, but there is division and some are looking primarily for their own benefit. I don’t go into The Castro anymore and I worry things will get worse as we have a chief executive who thinks it’s okay to treat people badly.

We NEED the Dyke March more than ever! We need to have a sense of safe community and to come together to show that we’re not going anywhere. We are huge part of what makes this city what it is.

On the flip side, what compelling positive signs do you see in the movement?

There’s a lot more cross-collaboration among organizations! For the last three years we’ve had someone from the Trans March sit on our committee. This sort of partnership has been powerful because we can approach the City of San Francisco together as a bigger alliance to achieve our goals.

There’s also been a wider range of people getting involved. We recently had someone from The Castro Country Club approach us to get involved and to me that says a lot. It means we’re accessible and we’re meeting needs! We are bold, strong, smart, savvy organizers and people are noticing.

What partnerships have been key to your project’s success?

We don’t accept any corporate money, but we do accept donations from local businesses, like the Dolores Park Cafe and Bi-Rite, to name a few. Many of them have been supporting us for at least five years! In one example of partnership, this year Bi-Rite is going to have us come into their store and talk to shoppers on the day when a part of their proceeds go to the Dyke March.

Another aspect is that many of these businesses are on our march route, so they hand out products as we come by, or maybe they have a bubble machine going– it becomes their celebration too! These partners are really invested in making our event happen and they represent the bigger picture of the lesbian community and its support network.

Describe how small, gradual action steps of your project have yielded big results.

I can think of three ways:

  1. After many years of dedicated relationship-building, our interaction with city agencies like Rec and Park has become candid, productive, dynamic, and mutually beneficial. Agencies respect our organization skills and responsiveness.
  2. Our infrastructure was loose when I started. We have implemented a committee structure with three co-chairs for programs, community engagement, and fundraising. They each build their own teams and operate independently, creating autonomy and sustainability. It took me the first two years to work on implementing a checklist of about 100 things, but now we have systems in place!
  3. We have had a lot of success in fundraising. We have increased our grants, recouped grants we had lost, and bolstered individual giving. When you can raise $10,000 at an afternoon party in the Mission, it says a lot about our reputation and community interest.

My advice to other projects? Find your champions in the community! The successful party I described above was possible because of our champion, Lila Thirkield. Lila ran the legendary lesbian bar The Lexington Club for 20 years and she is now committed to our success.

Also, I recommend creative partnerships. We partner with KINGDOM, a drag king troupe. We did an opening event with them last year at a local college and a parent of one of the students gave $5,000! This sort of collaboration turns creative partners and champions into thought partners as well. These are the people that we go to when we have a challenge and need feedback.

Tell us about other causes that inspire you.

In terms of groups, I am in awe of the trans community and Black Lives Matter. The trans community has serious resilience and determination while under attack; they never back down. And Black Lives Matter does a phenomenal job of addressing intersecting identities and overarching disenfranchisement. We would love to get one of their speakers at the march this year.

How has fiscal sponsorship helped you achieve your goals?

Oh my gosh, it means we can actually do the work and not worry about all the backend stuff! Because I’ve worked in nonprofits, I know how much work is involved. Also, you guys have this group of experts and smarty pants. I can come up with random weird questions and you have answers for us. You offer suggestions and ask how you can help. We know that CI is not just doing paperwork; you have our back and are invested in our growth. Having CI support also means that we can raise money from grants. And learning about financials and budgeting from CI has not only made that piece clear and organized for our project, it has helped in other areas of my life!

Anything else you would like to share with the community?

We’re not done fighting. We’ll be around until our community is not at risk anymore.

We’re a resource, we’re here if you need us, and we’re really excited to celebrate 25 years!

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Posted June 1, 2017 in General

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