A flier advertising this year's march Credit: Bria Royal

Less than two weeks after the shooting in Orlando that left 49 people dead and 53 injured—with gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Latinx people numbering disproportionately amongst the casualties—Chicago’s still-mourning LGBTQ community will kick off Pride Weekend festivities Saturday with the 20th annual Dyke March.

Billed as a grassroots celebration of dyke, queer, bisexual, and transgender resilience, the parade and gathering is meant to bring together people who have often been marginalized even within the broader gay community.

Gnat Rosa Madrid, who has held fundraiser house parties for Dyke March at her Humboldt Park home, and hosts the queer Latinx dance party Duro at Berlin, describes Dyke March as special and set apart from other Pride events.

“It’s different because it’s organized by women of color and people of color,” she says. Madrid describes the march as an “affirming, beautiful, safe space” where she can be herself: “I can be Latina, I can be a dyke, I can be a woman, I can be an artist, I can show my body, and I won’t feel like I’m going to be criticized for it—I’ll be celebrated!”

Although once seen as a slur, many lesbians have reclaimed the word “dyke” and now embrace it as a positive term when used by members of their own communities.

This year also marks the event’s third year in Humboldt Park. For more than a decade, the march took place exclusively in Andersonville on the far north side. Since 2008 it’s moved every couple years to neighborhoods including Pilsen, South Shore, and Argyle Street, in order to support its mission of inclusivity and accessibility.

Dyke March’s choice to locate this year in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood has lent gravity and salience to the march.

Anthony Aguinaldo, a Humboldt Park resident and gay man of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, says the nightclub shooting “made me realize how significant it is that Dyke March carefully selects their neighborhoods. . . I feel gratitude of their presence in Humboldt Park.”

Since moving to Humboldt Park, Dyke March has partnered with neighborhood organizations including Orgullo en Accion, TransLatin@ Coalition, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

“We don’t want to be colonizers who just go into the neighborhood and disrupt everything,” says Alexis Martinez, a transgender woman who has been a member of the Dyke March Collective, the group that organizes the event, for six years. “We’ve built some good relationships; we have some foundational roots in the neighborhood.”

From left: Benji Hart, Mayadet Patitucci Cruz, and others march in the 2015 Puerto Rican People's Parade.
From left: Benji Hart, Mayadet Patitucci Cruz, and others march in the 2015 Puerto Rican People’s Parade.Credit: JJ Ueunten

The march will begin at 2:30 PM Saturday at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western, and will process along a short, half-mile long route on Division Street, concluding near the park’s entrance at California and Division. A rally in the park’s southeast corner will follow, with entertainment, food, community gathering, and support. Performers will include Benji Hart and Nic Kay—who will be voguing with young folks from theBroadway Youth Center—and rappers Kaycee Ortiz, Tweak the RGB, and Bella Bahhs, among others. ASL-English interpretation will be provided and food will be furnished on a donation-only basis by Chef Fresh.

The costs of the march and rally are paid for entirely by donations. The volunteer-led nature of the event also sets Dyke March in contrast to Pride events in Boystown, which some see as having been tainted by commercialism.

“We’re very grassroots compared to the Pride Parade,” says Martinez. “I think the end of Dyke March would be when we start to see Bud Light trucks pull up. That’s something that would kill us.”

And, although the city has said it will step up its police presence at Pride events following the massacre in Orlando, the Dyke March Collective says it will not follow suit.

“We try to minimize the police presence simply because we feel that, as people of color, police are not looking out for our best interest,” says Martinez. “We haven’t had any problem at any Dyke Marches that we haven’t been able to handle on our own, and the police generally have been very cooperative.”

There’s one other group organizers hope to steer clear of: “No politicians, and definitely no Rahm Emanuel,” says Mayadet Patitucci Cruz, a collective member and self-described fat femme queer Boricua. “It is not a day where we overlook the harm institutions cause [queer and trans people of color] but rather a celebration of how well we have loved and cared for one another.”

Madrid expects that the overall atmosphere of this year’s march and rally will be different from that of previous years.

“I think it’s going to be somber. I think that there will be a lot of pride, a lot of joy, and a lot of noise, but I think that there will also be a lot of processing,” she says. “There’ll be grief.”

“The Latinx community is really going to show up,” she predicts, “because we are hurting so much. We are scared, and it feels really good for us all to be together.”