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May 31, 2024

Philly Dyke March is back for Pride Month, but a schism spawned a new event with a similar purpose and name

The original demonstration returns Saturday after a five-year hiatus. The offshoot that has emerged touts more visibility of people of color.

LGBTQ Demonstrations
Philly Dyke March Pride Ashlee Kulp/Philly Dyke March

The last Philly Dyke March took place in 2019. The photo above is from the 2017 march.

After a five-year hiatus, the Philly Dyke March returns Saturday morning for the first weekend of Pride Month. But it won't be the only event that will be using that name to reclaim the derogatory term toward lesbians.

The Philly Dyke March, put on by an organization with the same name since 1998, begins at 11 a.m. at Kahn Park in Center City. Two hours later, the group Philly Dyke Night is holding a new event, Philly Dyke March Rebirth, at Washington Square Park.

MORE: Festivals, marches and a giant flag: Your guide to Philly Pride Month's first week

So why has an offshoot march emerged? The group behind the original Philly Dyke March has only acknowledged the other event in one social media post, while posts by Philly Dyke Night point to a schism over the inclusivity and visibility of people of color at events and among the original group's leaders.

Reviving the Philly Dyke March

Philly Dyke March organizer Rachele Fortier, who has been with the group since 2018, said the event started in 1998 as a "more radical protest response to what was a very corporatized, white, cis(gender), male-centered Pride event to make and take space for other members of our community that don't feel welcomed or comfortable there."

Inclusivity was a top priority for the Philly Dyke March, Fortier said. 

The last Philly Dyke March took place in 2019, with the COVID-19 pandemic halting plans in subsequent years. During the interim, the organization participated in the Philly Queer March for Black Lives in 2020, and volunteers from the group took part in the Philly Pride March after the dissolution of Philly Pride Presents.

Philly Pride Presents was the organization formerly in charge of the Philly Pride March and Festival; it dissolved in 2021 over allegations of transphobia and racism. The organization Galaei now hosts the march and festival. 

According to Fortier, Philly Dyke March organizers felt ready to relaunch the event this year, although only about two months of planning went into it compared with the usual half a year. 

"It's a lot scrappier, trying to build back up an organization that hasn't been active in this way for the past five years," Fortier said.

Fortier said Philly Dyke March is teaming up with TechOWL at Temple University to provide accessibility and mobility aids.

The emergence of a new march

Since 2022, Philly Dyke Night has hosted "curated parties by and for leatherdykes, freaks, and pervs of all genders," according to the group's description. Its main recurring event was Dyke Stop, which took place in the Bike Stop leather bar in the Gayborhood.

Dyke Stop halted in April 2023 due to unspecified allegations of harm and racism toward attendees. By last June, Philly Dyke Night had become a Black-led organization, with white organizers stepping down. Since then, the organization has hosted town halls and community meetings, along with events at Bike Stop and Bar X, also in the Gayborhood.

On April 10, Philly Dyke Night announced plans to hold Philly Dyke March Rebirth, a demonstration that intends to emphasize leadership from queer and transgender people of color.

Days later, a post on the Philly Dyke Night Instagram account accused Philly Dyke March of being silent on several issues, including gentrification, the war in Gaza, mutual aid efforts during the pandemic and the lack of pay for speakers and performers at events. 

"For years, black organizers have left one by one because of the lack of diversity, inaction, outreach, understanding, exclusion, etc of white organizers," Philly Dyke Night leaders said in an email, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety.

They said the group has not sought out permits for Saturday's demonstration. "We don't believe in paying money for exercising our First Amendment rights such as the right to assembly, speech, press, etc.," they said.

By comparison, Philly Dyke March does not have a permit to march but has obtained one to gather at Kahn Park.

The organizers of Philly Dyke March Rebirth said their demonstration will be more political. 

A social media post that outlines the group's demands and mission emphasizes the "liberation of those affected by white supremacy and colonization," and says the march aims to "uplift all dykes" while showing support for Palestinians, anti-racism training, reparations and the funding for mutual aid organizations.

Whether Philly Dyke March Rebirth returns depends on the numbers, organizers said. 

The afterparty for the group's march will be at Pentridge Station and be a fundraiser for the Queer Performers Rideshare Fund, which aims to help performers get to and from shows safely, a response to the death of Philly drag queen David "Daelicious O'hare Mizani" Manley in May.

An April 21 social media post from Philly Dyke March addressed several of the concerns brought by Philly Dyke Night without directly referencing the organization. The post said future performers and speakers at Philly Dyke March will be paid for their time and talent, while apologizing for "harm that has been caused" and promising to "advocate for the liberation of dykes of all backgrounds."

Though Philly Dyke March did not address demands from Philly Dyke Night, including its call for white organizers to step down, Philly Dyke March emphasized that all are welcome to attend organizer meetings, and that the group intends to create more opportunities for people to talk to organizers in person.

Marches aim for balance

Regardless of their differences, the march organizers are attempting to balance political action with revelry. 

"I expect there to be a lot of joy and celebration that we're coming back in a space, but it is certainly going to look different," Fortier said. "There are a lot of things going on in our country." She cited the pandemic, legislation targeting trans youth and the U.S. government's role in the war in Gaza.

"I think we are expected in a lot of parts of our lives to not express our anger or hurt or a desire for something new and different," Fortier said. "It is important to create a space where that is OK to come together and feel supported in community and get that release and joy of being together."

The organizers from Philly Dyke Night offered similar sentiments, albeit with a sense of urgency. 

"Yes, visibility is important as well as joy, but how can we experience both when we're witnessing a genocide, communities are being gentrified out in favor of another and there are over 400+ anti-LGBTQ bills in our country?"