How Much for Stormé’s Punch? Protest and Pride, NYC

There is an undeniable difference between the spirit behind NYC’s annual Dyke protest march and the Pride parade, which took place in NYC June 23 and 24, respectively. As the names suggest, the first is an overt demonstration while the latter is more a celebration.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, there was more of an anti-governmental lash out at the Dyke protest, even though anti-Trump sentiment was present the day of Pride, too. The banner announcing the 26th protest included “Dykes Stand Up Fight Ice,” and the message against recent American immigration policies was clear (I.C.E. stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Just as notably, it was the bodies of women—the Dyke Marshals—which provided a physical barricade between marchers and the crowds on the street. They joined hands, formed a human chain, and advanced with the march from beginning until end so there was always a wall between onlookers and participants.

One of the contrasts at Pride was the metal barricades police used to separate millions of revelling onlookers from those marching in recognition of the significant rights and advances the LGBT community has made. It was also the corporate air of the Pride march that stood out. Floats and placards boasted the names of numerous businesses, as well as spokespeople for political parties.

I can’t help but think of the great feminist economist Marilyn Waring here or of the coining of the term “double bind,” used to describe women who are marginalized not only on account of being women but on account of being ethnic minorities, being aligned with poverty, being lesbians, and being formed by other realities that add to oppression associated with the state of being of the second sex. Waring’s 1988 book, If Women Counted, convinced the United Nations to revise the manner in which they measured GDP by taking into account unpaid women’s labour—labour such as childcare, food gathering and preparation, the maintenance of households and much more. I’m thinking of Waring here as I wonder how much the Dyke protest, in and of itself, is unpaid labour for which lesbians might consider invoicing the government or the various corporate sponsors and political offices who have supported Pride.

The Dyke protest is an incredibly important prelude to the Pride celebration that follows. It grounds one in the reality that LGBT rights were fought for, that they still have to be fought for, and that it was, and still is, literal human bodies that need protection and that have often offered themselves as the first line of defense, as in the moment in NYC’s Greenwich Village when drag king Stormé DeLarverie threw the first punch at Stonewall.*

How much was that punch worth?

There are a handful of Dyke bars in NYC, including Cubbyhole, Henrietta Hudson and Ginger’s. However, I was in San Francisco when the last dyke bar, The Lexington, closed. Unless things have changed lately in Toronto, as well, there are no exclusively lesbian bars there either, and the trend in North America really seems to be more mixed events than social gatherings specifically for lesbians.

While it is, at first glance, healthy that so much progress has been made that straight and all kinds of different queer patrons simply mix at the same venues now, there is still something to be said for the necessity of having, and the desire to have, places to go where one can be assured the community with which one identifies can be found. But this is not often a reality for the lesbian community.

Let’s face it, women, as a whole, do not have the same disposable income as men. Their ability to keep alive their own bars (with fewer drinks being bought and with lower covers being necessary, for example) is slim. Thus, economics, one might say, is one of the prime factors responsible for limited congregating spaces for queer women. In turn, economics, therefore, is one of the prime factors limiting the ability of women to shake the foundations of change, as there is a lack of loci to foster communal resolve and action.

Perhaps one of the things that could be done is for those government officials and corporate sponsors who funded Pride to fund the creation of venues and meeting places for queer women. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed Pride as much as anyone else, and I was almost brought to tears when I recognized that LGBT rights demanded the attention of literally millions at all the recent international Pride festivities around the globe.

But just how much was, and is, Stormé’s punch worth, and shouldn’t we all reap the rewards of that investment? At the very least, how much would it cost to have one venue in every major city (where there are numerous gay clubs) dedicated to the lesbian community? I’d join a third march just to fight for that, too!

This all said, however, I have to end my reflections on this wonderful weekend in NYC by speaking of Sunday’s Pride parade. The most outstanding component was the Caribbean contingent with fabulous costumes and participants who ran the celebration route. Having spent so much time in Caribbean areas where it is not acceptable to be queer, I cheered as much as anyone in the crowd watching the Caribbean excel again.

The Caribbean is classy and fancy, and, as always, its countries stood at the centre of attention—this time, at the centre of a celebration of human rights.

 

* I was reminded of this when I recently read Legends of the Chelsea Hotel, by Ed Hamilton.