Last year, for the first time in ages, I was off on a Saturday in June, which meant I could finally attend my first Philly Dyke March in years. Huzzah! Huzzah! I gathered a few buds: Amelia Carter, Winona Wyatt and Ashley Phillips, and off we went. We met our sisters — dykes of all races, sizes, ages, abilities, socioeconomic status, gender presentations and sexualities — and took to the streets. We marched through the Gayborhood, around City Hall, down Broad Street and then back to Kahn Park. But I digress.
If you’re not familiar with it, the Dyke March is “an annual rally and march to create a space that celebrates the experiences of self-identified dykes and their allies.” Part of the power and fun of PDM is that it’s not a sanctioned march; it’s a protest, a movement, and as such, no permit is solicited and no permission is asked. We spoke to two of the kickass women who help put the event together: PDM co-leader Mariah Moore and entertainment coordinator Stephanie Chando.
PGN: Tell us about yourself.
MM: I got my undergraduate degree from Tulane University. I used to work for the New Jersey state health department. I got my master’s in public health from Drexel and am looking to get a medical degree at some point.
PGN: I guess you’re not squeamish.
MM: Not at all. I know it’s morbid, but I can’t wait to cut people open for a living. I’d love to be a surgeon.
PGN: What’s the craziest thing you’ve encountered in the medical field?
MM: Someone let me use a bone saw on a cadaver when I was 16. It was the most fantastic thing I’ve ever done, though I’m not sure it was completely legal. I was fascinated by the idea of taking a body apart and putting it back together.
PGN: And what other things signified you were a weird kid?
MM: I was a bit of a wild child. I talked non-stop, which I still do. I was always around older people because of my parents, so I had a lot of conversations with grownups that weren’t necessarily age-appropriate.
PGN: What’s something that, looking back, was an early sign you were gay?
MM: Two things: I went to a Quaker school that was very big on teaching sex-ed early on. They showed us a film that included homosexuality when I was 10 and I was like, “Yup, that’s me.” It took me about four more years to fully accept it. The other thing is that when I was a baby, my room was decorated in rainbows and unicorns. My mother never liked the color pink, so she’d dress me in little-boy onesies, so I tease her now: “Do you realize what you’ve done here?”
PGN: That’s funny. So what are you doing now?
MM: I just quit my job so I can go back to school. I was working for the state of New Jersey as a tobacco-prevention specialist. I worked on smoke-free policies in parks, urban housing, beaches, etc.
PGN: Which LGBT organizations do you work with?
MM: I am the current national vice president of the Gamma Rho Lambda Sorority, which is the first LGBT collegiate sorority. I founded my chapter in Tulane in 2013 and I’ve been with nationals for nearly four years. We are a multicultural sorority. I also was involved with the QSA and a queer women’s group. In 2014, I went with a friend to an “Up Against the Wall” training for PDM marshals. She picked me up and drove me to the William Way LGBT Community Center, then she practically pushed me out of the car, saying, “I have something else to do, go get involved.” And I did. I started out as a marshal, then worked on the marketing committee, the PDK (Philly Drag King) committee and now Jenn Anderson and I are the co-leaders.
PGN: If someone asks what is PDM, give me the basics.
MM: O.K, my 30-second pitch is that the Dyke March was started in 1998 because most of the Pride events were run by white, cis-gendered gay males and there wasn’t much diversity. So in protest, the Dyke March gave a voice to those who self-identify as dykes and their allies to take the streets to show that we deserve our place and we deserve to celebrate.
PGN: Why does being with this group seem to mean so much to people?
MM: Well, for me, it’s where I met Steph, so there’s that, but from the beginning it was a place that wasn’t intimidating. Everyone was so welcoming. I’ve been one of the youngest members since I joined, and it’s a good place to feel like your voice is heard and also to gain leadership experience.
PGN: Can anyone participate in the march?
MM: Allies or people who aren’t dyke-identified are always welcome to the rally and march. The one rule that we have is that the stage is reserved for dyke-identified people and that’s a really broad term. We don’t police it: If you identify as a dyke, that’s good enough for us.
PGN: So you and Mariah are a Dyke March love story. How did that happen?
SC: We knew each other peripherally in the community for a long time, but we didn’t get close until we started doing Dyke March stuff. She was one of the co-leads and I was an organizer. Last summer I realized that I had a crush on her and kind of pursued her. We went on our first official date last November.
PGN: Are you from this area as well?
SC: I was born and raised in North Jersey. I moved here in 2006 to go to what I call “grad school round one.” I went to Penn for my social-work degree. I fell in love with the city and haven’t wanted to leave ever since.
PGN: Excellent. What was “round two”?
SC: Round two is happening now. I’m a Ph.D. student at Widener University studying human sexuality. For my day job, I’m a palliative-care social worker at Pennsylvania Hospital focusing on the sexual and intimate lives of people with terminal illnesses, particularly those closer to end of life. How can the healthcare professional help them in addressing issues around sexuality? A lot of my colleagues who are comfortable talking about death and dying, one of the most taboo subjects in our culture, are terrified of talking about sexuality or gender identity.
PGN: What’s something that makes you do a complete face palm?
SC: When a healthcare professional walks into a room to find the patient in the bed with their loved one and they can’t handle it — can’t understand the concept that a loved one would want to provide physical touch and comfort at what might be your most difficult time. It’s out of their realm of thinking. I had a doctor once tell me that it’s because we’re terrified of seeing patients as people, it’s much easier to see them as “the patient” or as their illness. Sexuality is a huge part of our lives and research shows that patients want to talk about these things, but they expect the healthcare practitioners to bring it up.
PGN: Kind of like when someone says, “I’m not going to come out until my parents ask me,” and the parents say, “I don’t want to ask unless they say something.”
SC: Exactly. It’s a constant dance and we’re missing each other. And the patient isn’t getting validated and neither are their partners or families. It’s exponentially problematic for the LGBT community.
PGN: When did you come out?
SC: I did not come out publicly until the age of 24. I was engaged to my high-school sweetheart; he’s a cis man and we were to be married 10 years ago. Things fell apart about five months before the wedding. I’d kind of known for a while and had identified as bisexual to him. Just as I was graduating, I came out to the world, I think as pansexual. My whole life changed and I was a much happier person.
PGN: Where did you grow up?
SC: In Morris County, N.J. It was a very white, wealthy area, politically Democrat but fiscally conservative in a lot of ways. I think there were two families of color in our town. It was a rich, privileged public school — a different kind of bubble than I’m used to now.
PGN: I noticed on your Facebook page that you call out a lot of other white people. Why is that important to you?
SC: For me, I ascribe to the concept that white silence equals violence. I have a lot of people in my family of choice who are not white, obviously, and I think it’s important to take on some of the work of talking to other white folks and really engaging them in difficult conversations. It should not be on people of color to constantly educate us. I know that type of emotional labor gets exhausting and we shouldn’t expect that. We should be doing most of the work because generally we’re the ones causing the problems. Often we don’t recognize how we’re contributing to systems of oppression and racism.
PGN: Who are some people we will see on the stage?
SC: The newly crowned Mr. DPK 2018, Ken U. Knot; Rasta Boi Punany, who has been involved with PDM for years; Kitty Deveraux, who is a body-positive burlesque performer and a co-creator of SisterBears; and I just got word that Ashley Phillips will be singing. Boogie Rose will be the emcee and Amber Hikes will be leading us in the rally cry as we take off. And we’re still adding people.