Occurring a day ahead of Chicago’s enormous Pride Parade, the Dyke March has always billed itself as a social justice-driven gathering that seeks to build alliances across race, religion, class, gender identity and immigration status.
At its core, organizers say, the march is designed to celebrate inclusiveness.
At this year’s march, however, some participants accused organizers of excluding them for expressing their Jewish pride. Laurie Grauer, 35, told The Washington Post that she was one of three marchers who were asked to leave the event because they were carrying Jewish Pride flags — a symbol that some in the crowd viewed as a symbol of Palestinian oppression.
“Here we are at a march where you should be able to come as you and shouldn’t have to be fit in these boxes, but it appears that unless you check off all of their boxes about what they believe, you don’t belong,” Grauer said.
“It was very traumatizing to someone of a Jewish background,” she added. “It’s not the first time we’ve been told to hide our heritage.”
More than 1,000 marchers showed up for the 21st Annual Dyke March on Saturday as it moved through Little Village, a well-known Hispanic neighborhood on the city’s west side. The march is sometimes seen as being “less corporate and more racially inclusive” than the Pride Parade, according to Chicagoist.
Marchers carried signs that read, “Gender is fake, do what you want” and “Sanctuary for all, no exceptions,” Chicagoist reported.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page Sunday, the Chicago Dyke March said its “celebration of dyke, queer, and trans solidarity was partially overshadowed by our decision to ask three individuals carrying Israeli flags superimposed on rainbow flags to leave the rally.”
“This decision was made after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members. We have since learned that at least one of these individuals is a regional director for A Wider Bridge, an organization with connections to the Israeli state and right-wing pro-Israel interest groups.”
“The Chicago Dyke March Collective is explicitly not anti-Semitic, we are anti-Zionist,” the statement added. “The Chicago Dyke March Collective supports the liberation of Palestine and all oppressed people everywhere.”
Zionism is a belief that Jews deserve their own ancestral homeland because Judaism is not merely a religion but also a nationality.
Grauer — the Midwest manager for A Wider Bridge, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that builds support for Israel — said she has attended the march for about a decade and carried a pride flag with the Star of David emblazoned on it almost every time. In the past, she said, her Jewish rainbow flag has never been a problem and she assumed this year wouldn’t be any different.
Although she received a few stares during the march, she said, she was also approached by multiple marchers who thanked her for celebrating her Jewish heritage. Nobody confronted her about the flag until the march concluded in a local park to listen to speakers and entertainment.
From that point on, Grauer said, she and the two people she marched with were subjected to a revolving door of organizers and marchers who approached to confront her about her flag. Some people asked for her thoughts on Palestinian statehood, but others simply told her she wasn’t welcome and asked her to leave because they were “triggering” some marchers and “making people feel unsafe,” she said.
Grauer said she believes in a sovereign Palestinian state, but most of the people who confronted her weren’t interested in hearing her positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What was hurtful was that it happened repeatedly and some began making accusations about me, but basing those accusations on who they thought I was and what that symbol means to them,” Grauer said, referring to her Jewish pride flag. “Some of the organizers said the Star of David was a symbol of Jewish apartheid. They said the march was explicitly pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, but on their webpage and Facebook page there’s no mention of that.”
After nearly two hours of confrontations, Grauer said she left the gathering.
On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on organizers of the Chicago LGBTQ pride march to apologize for ejecting all three women, who had two Jewish Star of David flags between them.
The women were reportedly told that they could not take part in the city’s Dyke March because their flags “made people feel unsafe.”
“It is outrageous that while celebrating LGBTQ pride, Jewish participants carrying a rainbow Star of David flag were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, said in a statement sent to The Post. “The community of LGBTQ supporters is diverse and that is part of its tremendous strength.”
“Both the act and the explanation were anti-Semitic, plain and simple,” the statement added. “We stand with A Wider Bridge and others in demanding an apology. We appreciate the Human Rights Campaign’s support and we call on other leaders from LGBTQ and progressive communities to join us in condemning this exclusion.”
March organizers also posted a message from a Jewish marcher who said she was saddened that the Dyke March was “being labeled as anti-Semitic.”
“I want to speak to other Jews and say that firstly — saying you’re ‘not Zionist’ as a way to justify an allegiance to something or to not be critical of Zionism is not the same as being anti-Zionist, and is actually a position of neutrality which means being uncritical of the state of Israel,” Carrie Kaufman wrote. “It is very important that American Jews understand how this symbol and the idea that white European Jews are entitled to Israel have been used to fuel a colonialist state where Palestinian people are robbed of their rights, dignity, and lives on their own land.”
Asked to respond to the collective’s message, Grauer said there are many interpretations and shades of Zionism and noted that she didn’t attend the march to promote Zionism.
“I expressed my views on Israel when I was asked and not a moment before,” she said. “I did share the views. I had the conversation because I was asked to have it, not because I was handing out pamphlets or shouting about Zionism.”
Grauer said she hasn’t heard from Dyke March organizers, but hopes that Saturday’s confrontation will lead to a larger conversation between her and Dyke March organizers. She’s hurt, she said, but also hopeful.
“A moment to come together was lost,” Grauer said. “People can work together even if they don’t agree on every social action or cause. If this incident can help bring people together it would be a wonderful thing for Chicago, for activists, and it will even add more hope to the work that we support in Israel.”