The 2001 NYC Dyke March was for me an incredible and empowering experience, and a great welcome to New York City.
Dyke March marshals Jennifer Eclipse (left), Nadine Gartner, Lisa DeBoer. Diana De La Pava
JULY 19, 2002. Nadine Gartner was a 14-year-old living in a New Jersey suburb when, in April 1993, some 20,000 raucous dykes took to the streets in Washington, D.C. for the first Dyke March in history, spearheaded by the direct action group The Lesbian Avengers. This summer, she helped organize the 10th Annual New York City Dyke March. Here is her account of her journey, as told to The Gully.
I grew up in a small, white, Catholic, conservative, upper-class suburb in northern New Jersey. By not being Catholic or wealthy (we were Jewish and middle class), my family always stood out. My parents had moved there because of the excellent public schools system, even though my older brother, Orrie, and I were ostracized for being Jewish.
Orrie is several years older than I am, so we were as close as two siblings in such different stages of their lives could be. He left for the University of Colorado when I was in middle school, so my teenage years were more like that of an only child.
My parents are hard-working and loving people. My dad is an engineer and my mom is a teacher. They pushed me to work hard in school and pressured me to succeed, but they always gave me the freedom to be myself and wear whatever crazy clothes/hairdos/piercings I wanted to.
I was always really active in school with sports, theater, and student government. And I tended to hang out with the jock crowd, which I find really amusing now. My high school was extraordinarily white and intolerant of any sort of difference sexual, gender, race, nationality, whatever. It was difficult living in such an environment, but I spoke up against intolerance when I encountered it and focused on the future, namely graduating and moving far, far away (metaphorically, at least). Bryn Mawr college, with its feminist, queer-friendly, and racially diverse community, was the much-needed antithesis to my hometown.
A Dyke Epiphany
Once at Bryn Mawr, it took me some time to get over the shellshock; I had never seen two women hold hands romantically before, much less dance together or kiss passionately. During my sophomore year, I forced myself to deal with my latest crush by reading books (mostly by or about Jewish lesbians; I had such a strong Jewish identity, developed over the years because of my experience in my hometown, that I couldn't fathom taking on another identity without fully incorporating my Judaism), surfing queer web sites, and speaking/partying with my queer friends.
The final realization occurred a few months later, in the summer of 1999, while I was at a straight dance club with some friends. Dancing is one of my passions, and I always feel at home on the dance floor. This particular night, however, I was fully disgusted by the men who attempted to grind me while I was trying to check out the women. That's when I finally admitted to myself, out loud, that I was a dyke. The following weekend was the 1999 Dyke March in Washington, D.C. I showed up with some friends and, for me, it was an incredible, positively affirming introduction to the dyke world.
The First Lesbian Senator?
My mom immediately reaffirmed her love and support for me, but it has been, and continues to be at times, a struggle with both of my parents. I don't think that they envisioned lesbianism to be a part of my future success. They dreamed I would become president of a university or a U.S. Senator. My brother didn't bat an eyelash at the news; he just gave me a huge hug. I found it hardest to tell my inner circle of childhood friends, as some of them had known me since age 4. Each and every one of them have been nothing but supportive, and our friendships are stronger than ever because I am living my life honestly.
By the time I moved to New York City, last summer, after graduating from college, where I majored in English and Economics, I had already been to three Dyke Marches. The 1999 March in D.C., while I was a summer intern for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign, the 2000 NYC March, and D.C. again in 2001.
A week before moving to New York, I came in for Pride, which I had never been to. The night before, I went to the NYC Dyke March. I was floored by the number of women hanging out at Bryant Park, waiting for the March to start, and ended up taking an impromptu marshal training course that was held right there, before the March. It was conducted by Kris Franklin, who was great she's been involved with the Dyke March for a long time.
The 2001 NYC Dyke March was for me an incredible and empowering experience, and a great welcome to New York City. Soon afterwards, I began my current job as a legal analyst in a conservative, Wall Street financial firm. I work really long hours there, 60-80 hours a week. It took me several months to adapt to the tough schedule and to life in the city.
I've always been involved in political activism. While still in high school, I worked for two years for a local Democratic state senator. I later spent a college semester studying abroad, in Jerusalem. While there, I volunteered with the Israel Women's Network, a feminist organization that dealt with violence against women. I organized demos and vigils with them to raise awareness about the problem, to make women's experiences visible on issues of domestic violence, rape, etc. These issues are not sufficiently talked about there, and they don't have as many resources as we have in the U.S.
By January 2002, I was already more settled in New York. So, I began surfing the web, looking for something to get involved in, and I found the Dyke March website. That's how I went to my first Dyke March Committee meeting.
I was the only new person at that meeting. Most of the others had been involved in the Dyke March for a couple of years; some since the beginning. It felt a little intimidating. I didn't know how people would perceive me. I didn't know what to expect. For the first couple of weeks, I was more of an observer. I wanted to see how it all worked.
The Committee met twice a month between March and May, and every week in June, leading to the Dyke March. We also emailed frequently among ourselves, often conducting Committee discussions this way. Meetings were led by whoever volunteered. All of us did everything.
Much of what I did was palm card distribution. We had them ready two months before the March, and I walked all over the East and West Villages and the Lower East Side talking to people and passing them out personally, which is the most effective way. Everyone put in as much or as little time as they could.
I'd like for the Dyke March Committee to be more visible all year round. Women who march in the Dyke March generally have no idea of the amount of work that goes into it. We should let them know.
We get phone calls all the time recently from Chapel Hill and Buffalo from people who want to organize Dyke Marches in their towns and want to know how we go about it in New York City. So, we're planning to publish a Dyke March organizing manual this fall to document everything that goes on behind the scenes. We've already started collecting materials.
Working on the Dyke March is the first queer-specific activism that I have done, but I feel that all of my activism somehow impacts/is impacted by my lesbianism. Although I did not address queer-specific issues as an organizer of anti-violence demonstrations for the Israel Women's Network in Jerusalem, identifying as a lesbian, to me, means that women take precedence in my life, and any work towards improving women's lives is linked to that sexual identity.
Similarly, as a protestor in the counter-inauguration of January 2001 in Washington, D.C., I stood against Bush's stolen election as a queer, as well as a feminist, an anti-racist, and a Jew. Even in my current job as an investment banker, I feel that I conduct a bit of queer activism by being open about my sexuality, posting Dyke March palm cards in my office, and making my colleagues reconsider their blatant heterosexist assumptions and statements.
I do find time to relax. I love to dance, listen to music, write, watch films, read, and go out with friends. I just finished (and loved), David Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," and I'm currently reading "Sexing the Cherry" by Jeanette Winterson, which I enjoy but don't love as much as her "Written on the Body."
For the New York City Dyke March.
For an interview with veteran Dyke March organizer Marlene Colburn.
For the 4th Annual NYC Dyke March (1996).
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