On June 23, the Chicago Dyke March, a woman-focused alternative to the main Pride celebrations in the city, is set to happen. Lesbians, bisexual women, and other women who love women would expect such an event to be a comforting safe space for them; however, last year proved in a very definite way that it is not a safe space for Jewish women.
As a black Jewish trans woman, I am often asked to participate and show up for events for marginalized women, and I was asked by an acquaintance to attend this one. But my aversion to the Chicago Dyke March should be quite understandable.
In 2017, organizers of the Chicago Dyke March ejected several Jewish lesbians from the event. Their crime? Why, they were expelled for waving rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David! There is an unfortunate number of people in leftist circles who conflate the Star of David with Israel: an assumption that one can only come to by completely ignoring history. The Star of David is indeed on the national flag for Israel, but there is a reason for that: it has existed as the symbol for Judaism since the 13th century. To conflate the two is to say that Israel represents all Jews, and that is quite simply not the case. Many anti-Zionists proudly wear Star of David jewelry (myself included). We will not allow for the actions of Israel to dictate how we express ourselves as Jews.
In the immediate aftermath of this awful event, many people gave the Chicago Dyke March the benefit of the doubt. Not long after this, their official Twitter account told us everything we needed to know. On July 13, 2017, @DykeMarchChi tweeted “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes!”
“Zio” is an anti-Semitic term made popular by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and is used hundreds of times on his personal website. He is also known for employing the slur in rants (including “CNN, Goldman Sachs, and the Zio Matrix” as well as “Zio Control of Hollywood”).
Instead of apologizing for the slur, the Chicago Dyke March deleted the tweet and then followed it up with: “Wow, trying to compare a group of queer people of color to the KKK, so fucked up.”
That response proves two things: First of all, the organizers of this event understand how hateful and vile their language is and was, but they do not care. Secondly, they fall back on their collective identity as queer people of color in an effort to deflect from their own bigotry. Such a response to understandable criticism of anti-Semitism should make everyone wary of participating in their event, not just Jewish women.
This event also shone a light on a very troubling trend within leftist circles. Jewish people are more or less required to be subjected to a purity test with regard to their stance on the Occupation in Palestine. In no other circumstances within progressive communities can I think of examples of marginalized people having to denounce what a nation-state they have no connection with does. Jews, however, cannot simply march in pro-Palestine events or advocate for a Palestinian state. We must openly, loudly, and continuously disavow Israel, or we will be forcibly removed from any space that we share with progressives. We are guilty by association and must prove our innocence in order to be treated like human beings. Such behavior should not be tolerated at all, and the creation of special rules that apply only to Jewish people is inherently anti-Semitic.
While the overwhelmingly open anti-Semitism from the group’s organizers is enough to scare me away from ever attending, I also have to consider how the rest of my identity would be treated. It is an unfortunate fact that the LGBT mainstream community is both very cisgender-centric and very white-centric as well. Being black and a trans woman has meant that I can never feel truly comfortable in my surroundings. One would assume that the LGBT community would be extremely accepting, but anti-blackness and transmisogyny are forms of bigotry that are just as heavily practiced within the community as it is outside of it.
It is always difficult to feel truly part of a community when you look around and see that few or even no people look anything like you. Being made to constantly feel like an “other” in supposedly safe spaces where there is little to no effort made to be inclusive of people like you is enough to cause some major anxiety.
What could the Dyke March have done to make their space a safer and more inclusive event for Jewish women? Some accountability and humility would have been a brilliant start, as doubling down on an ignorant position won’t make people affected feel any better. As well, adding a Jewish voice amongst the organizers, and perhaps even doing some outreach to ask Jewish lesbians what we would like at an event like this, could help us to feel included and not ostracized. Such actions would not have corrected what has happened, but it would be a promising step forward to rehabbing their image and making Jewish lesbians feel like we have a real seat at the table.
It is now 2018. In the year after this debacle happened, the Chicago Dyke March has made zero effort to apologize for their wrongs or show that they have made any progress in better understanding how to treat Jewish women. It would be one thing if the organizers had used this as an opportunity to educate themselves on how to not be anti-Semitic, but that clearly has not been too high on their list of priorities. As such, their event remains a safe space for anyone but women like us.
Header image via Ted Eytan on Flickr.
Dahlia St. Knives is a poet and author from Chicago, Illinois. Two of their books (under the pen name Saint Knives) from 2017 were best sellers on Amazon.