In her documentary Dykes in the Streets, director Almerinda Travassos takes audiences back to the volatile summer of 1981 where the very first Dyke March took place. It was a day when 300 women marched down Yonge Street in solidarity against the right-wing push to control their lives and identity. Although women did not have to endure the bathhouse police raids that their male counterparts encountered, lesbians had their own share of terrors to deal with.
They faced threats of having their children taken away or being fired from jobs, including being kicked out of the military, for simply existing as a visible lesbian. Couple all of this with the wave of homophobic rhetoric that was being spouted by right-wing movements, such as the ones lead by American Anita Bryant, and the suffocating nature of the era was palpable. Even walking down Yonge Street chanting “We are the D. Y. K. E. S!” was as dangerous to their personal safety as it was empowering.
Using archival footage, and interviews with various women who have participated in the march over the years, Travassos constructs a board portrait of how the it evolved over the years. Looking at four specific years – 1981, 1991, 1996 and 2016 – Dykes in the Streets is both a celebration and a cautionary tale. In highlighting the unity achieved in 1981, the film shows how easily such accomplishments can be put in danger when movements become too comfortable.
In observing the woman discuss the racism that exists in a community that is still predominantly governed by white women; the adversities facing those who are transgendered and/or disabled; and the resurgence of the far-right politics in the time of Trump, Travassos reminds the viewer that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before all women in the LGBTQ2S+ community have true freedom and equality.