A brief history: the Annual Chicago Dyke March was founded in 1998 in response to the commercialism and lack of inclusion displayed at the Gay Pride Parade. The organizers planned the Dyke March to emphasize visibility of queer women.

The first dyke march originally took place in Andersonville, a lesbian-friendly neighborhood. But, after a decade, the Chicago Dyke March Collective decided to make the march mobile. Since then, the march has traveled every two years to raise awareness and build coalitions in a variety of diverse yet segregated Chicago neighborhoods. The Dyke March was held in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Pilsen in 2008 to 2009 and the predominantly black neighborhood of South Shore in 2010 to 2011.

Emilia Chico, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance board member and Chicago Dyke March Collective organizer, said responses to marching in South Shore emphasized the need to engage diverse communities;

“Someone asked me how we were going to make sure they did not get shot.”

This year, i2i, Invisible to Invincible, a community-based organization that celebrates LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders, is collaborating with the Chicago Dyke March Collective to organize the event in Uptown.

Uptown, also known as Little Vietnam, is home to a variety of predominantly Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Laotian, French Vietnamese, and Cambodian stores, restaurants, and community organizations. Uptown is also host to a hodgepodge of Ethiopian, Persian, Indian, Mexican, and African American establishments and communities.

The grassroots movement, led by the Chicago Dyke March Collective, hopes to develop partnerships between the local organizations (including minority-owned businesses) and dyke, queer, bisexual, and transgender communities.

In response to the decision to march in Uptown, Chico commented:

“As a core organizer for Dyke March Chicago I have been committed to continuously moving the march across the city of Chicago, I am so excited to witness and hear the excitement for the march to take place in a historically Asian American community. A number of us have worked tirelessly to stay committed to our mission “to move” and its clear that the Queer community of Chicago wants us to continue promoting visibility in all neighborhoods! Pilsen and South Shore were just a start!”

Engaging these two communities at this year’s annual Dyke March will happen just several weeks after Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) partnered with Lambda Legal, as Uniting America, to host an HIV Health Fair. The Health Fair took place at the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, on May 18 during National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

One participant, who interviewed with Windy City News, reflected on the lack of LGBTQ awareness within communities, particular the Asian American community:

“I actually defy all the stereotypes, I guess, of being Filipino-American, immigrant, Catholic. I’m openly HIV-positive, I’m queer, and I’m very sex-positive. I encompass all these elements that aren’t spoken about in my own community and (others).”

“I guess what I’m trying to do is ‘normalize’ HIV and not talk about it in such a way that there’s this ‘otherness’. It’s hard to normalize it in the Asian community. We need to be less silent.”

“There’s this stereotype that Asian-Americans don’t have sex, but I know a lot of Asian Americans who are HIV-positive – no one ever speaks about that.”

“When I go to an event for African Americans or Latinos, I don’t hear my voice and that’s really sad. When I think about someone who’s 17 or 18 – whether they’re HIV-positive, queer, intersex, or transgender – they don’t have a voice, especially in Chicago, a city that’s very segregated. You don’t have that voice for queer Asian youth.”

Efforts to bridge differences are important in the segregated yet diverse city of Chicago, where queers of color have spoken about their lack of a cohesive community with both the LGBTQ community and ethnic communities. While a day march doesn’t mark the finish line, it’s certainly an important first step and an example for other cities facing similar issues of disconnected identity politics.

The march is scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 3 pm. For more information, visit the Chicago Dyke March website.