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From Me to You: Dyke Day Builds Community in L.A.'s Eastside

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Organizers collect donations for next year's Dyke Day LA celebration | Photo: Maya Santos

Much like the Castro in San Francisco or New York City's Chelsea district, many Angelenos identify West Hollywood as L.A.'s center of queer life. Admittedly, with the rainbow flag that was for months raised above West Hollywood City Hall, it might not be immediately obvious to think otherwise. As the annual host of L.A. Pride (which first began 45 years ago, in 1970, as a way to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots), West Hollywood has had a rich and colorful history rooted in progressive social politics and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) visibility.

However, in celebration of the 8th annual Dyke Day L.A. last weekend, hundreds of self-identified dykes and their allies abandoned the crowded streets of West Hollywood and communed together in a shaded public park on L.A.'s eastside. Together these women are seeking to reshape the experience of gay pride and reclaim it for themselves, miles and miles away from the party-seeking hordes of West Hollywood's famous "Boys Town."

"When we first started organizing Dyke Day, we didn't feel like West Hollywood Pride was something that made us very prideful," says Kat Laukat, one of the five Dyke Day organizing collective members. She discussed the origins of Dyke Day in Elysian Park during the festivities last Saturday morning, next to a playground where several gleeful young children, whose parents were attending Dyke Day, chased each other throughout the forest green jungle gym. Frustrated by the amassing corporate sponsorship, Laukat recalled often feeling exploited and marginalized by L.A. Pride. "Dyke Day is something that we created as an alternative," Laukat said. "I know a lot of queer folks who can enjoy West Hollywood, but who can also enjoy something like this. It's just a different energy."

Kat Laukat at Dyke Day | Photo: Maya Santos
Kat Laukat at Dyke Day | Photo: Maya Santos
Monica, founder of LILLIES, and her partner, Gina | Photo: Maya Santos
Monica, founder of LILLIES, and her partner, Gina | Photo: Maya Santos

Laukat's overall sentiments seem to be shared by the community at large. Concerning West Hollywood's Pride festivities, many people at Dyke Day had a "been there, done that" attitude. They are interested in alternative forms of intentional community building and queer celebration instead.

Having outgrown Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood, where Dyke Day had previously been held since 2007, this was the first year that the free, all ages event was organized in Elysian Park, L.A.'s oldest and second largest public park, flanked by the neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights, Echo Park, and Frogtown. With over 600 attendees, this year's Dyke Day brought together the eclectic queer community largely as a result of Laukat's and her cohort's grassroots organizing efforts (news of Dyke Day is spread entirely by social media and word of mouth).

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Dyke Day -- like the word "dyke" itself, which incorporates both powerful and painful histories -- is a day that will continue to change and evolve over time. "'Dyke' is a way to identify. Some people might call themselves 'butch.' Some people might call themselves 'femme.' You'll find the full spectrum of masculine and feminine energies within that umbrella," said Monica, founder of the LILLIES support group for "late in life lesbians." "There are many shades of gray under the rainbow."

So what exactly does Dyke Day's version of pride look like? Just like many of L.A.'s public gatherings, the vibe at this year's Dyke Day was determinedly relaxed and family-friendly. Besides the overwhelming majority of women present, you could hardly tell the difference between Dyke Day and the Lopez family reunion, which was also occurring in Elysian Park that day. There were people of all ages, backgrounds, and identities sharing food and drink, dancing, lounging, and meeting new and old friends. There was a DJ, a water balloon toss, an ice cream truck, a woman administering free massages to strangers, and even a bounce house for kids. There was absolutely no cigarette smoking allowed, and there were many, many dogs. There were also representatives from a handful of local non-profit groups aimed at improving queer life and better connecting the community, like PFLAG, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Black Lesbians United, Sunday Service, and Project Q, which provides free haircuts to LGBTQ youth through a mobile salon run by hair stylist Madin Lopez.

Black Lesbians United | Photo: Maya Santos
Black Lesbians United | Photo: Maya Santos
Dancing at Dyke Day 2015 | Photo: Maya Santos
Dancing at Dyke Day 2015 | Photo: Maya Santos

With its laid-back, DIY energies, Dyke Day functions as an intentional space meant for queer women to see and be seen, and Laukat is keenly aware of the struggles that queer women face in achieving visibility. "I think it's a part of patriarchy that men are inherently taught to take up more space and more easily embody more privilege," she said. "I don't think that's a generalization by any means ... I think there's something about being raised as a man that's created a different history for gay men's liberation than what a lesbian path to liberation has looked like. There still are these realities."

These realities aren't lost on many of Dyke Day's attendees either. First-timer Jill Dannis, for example, spoke highly of her experience at the event. "West Hollywood is great, but I feel like there's only one very specific community there," she said. "I think it's a really positive thing to have a space like this where you're celebrating different identities that you don't always hear about." Dannis was in attendance with several gay male friends who said they came out to support their underrepresented female peers.

Kids giving away free stickers from Sunday Service at Dyke Day | Photo: Maya Santos
Kids giving away free stickers from Sunday Service at Dyke Day | Photo: Maya Santos
Dyke Day L.A. participants | Photo by: Maya Santos
Dyke Day L.A. participants | Photo by: Maya Santos

Laukat acknowledged how living in the city of L.A. is important in making Dyke Day possible: "There's no doubt that you get a lot of privilege being in a large city where being gay is much more of a norm. In small towns in the U.S. and across the world, having an event like this wouldn't be option unless you want to get killed."

"It's out of necessity and love that the queer community has built these support structures," Laukat continued. "This is the place where we get to build and support and love on each other. It's the feeling of pride."

It's true that L.A.'s queer community still has a long road ahead in the fight for equality, one that encompasses so much more than the nullification of CA Prop 8 and the right of same-sex marriage. For now, there is a beautiful grassroots movement happening which is aimed at lifting each other up. In fact, Dyke Day 2015 received no sponsorship and was funded entirely through donations and volunteers.

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