Women in bright t-shirts stand in front of barricades blocking the streets surrounding Dolores Park. The green of the grass is almost unseen as people stumble over blankets, bottles, umbrellas, beer pong tables, and popup tents covering the field between 18th to 20th Street. A female MC, with a soft afro and denim overalls hooked on one shoulder, introduces the next guest on a small stage near the lower west side; speaking into a microphone, her voice hardly travels to the middle of the park over the music, the commotion, the party.
The public rager continues to attract more festive attendees as the Saturday afternoon progresses. By 4:30, the park is lightyears past maximum capacity as people spill over the sidewalks, pour onto streets, drunkenly flooding the three blocks along Dolores. This is when the rev of motorcycle engines begin to roar and echo off houses between the Castro and Mission district. I throw on a neon-yellow safety vest and follow the sound, lining up along a bus disguised as an old-fashioned trolley. Behind me is a street-wide banner held by countless women and a crowd behind them, holding signs, blowing whistles, spreading love and cheer.
Believe it or not, this beautiful pandemonium is a day-long rally ending with a march known as Dykes on Bikes. (Hence the motorcycles). The Dyke March spans Valencia to Castro Street and a couple blocks in between. This year, I volunteer as a safety monitor, keeping an eye on the jubilant crowd. Volunteering is not new to me; I began volunteering at a young age, an experience I love for being “hands-on,” and sharing my time with people, communities, and organizations in need. What I love most about volunteering at events by myself is the opportunity to meet new people.
Since it’s my first year volunteering at the Dyke March, I’m paired with a volunteer-veteran named Emma (if you’ve volunteered for a few years, you’re assigned a walkie-talkie and headset). We monitor the crowd and I stay on Emma’s left side so she can hear the communications on the headset in her right ear and hear me with her other. She explains what to look out for and the other duties we have as floaters. As we walk the park, Emma tells me about experiences she’s had being trans and about how the Trans March doesn’t get as large a turn out as the Dyke March, but (of course) always loves going. We make it to the perimeter of the north side, where a vintage firetruck is parked and a small crowd of pedestrians and firefighters in uniform are gathered. Emma says “there’s the Fire Department recruiting every year at the Dyke March…they’re looking for strong women,” I giggle in agreement. Emma repeats a new report on the headset, a child has gone missing. As the safety team, we search. Luckily the missing child was found shortly, playing in the sandbox. After this tense bit, we retreat to the volunteer tent to take our break, resting our feet and snacking on pizza.
My second volunteer shift I’m paired with an energetic twenty-year-old named Kaleigh, who exclaims June is her most favorite month. Why? It’s Pride Month (duh, she adds). Kaleigh and I roam the park, each holding one side of a giant bucket with dollar signs written with thick sharpie. Kaleigh enthusiastically informs people that the Dyke March paid eleven grand to clean up the park after last year’s kick-off; we raise forty-six dollars in donations in merely thirty minutes. I’m not sure if it’s encouraging people to clean up their trash or Kaleigh’s slogan that drew money out of people’s pockets…She went around shouting “if you’re not gay, you owe us a dollar!” Some may not have donated, but they definitely laughed. If we aren’t collecting money, at least we’re entertaining.
Volunteering allows me to walk at the front of the parade to maintain order (what little order there is at an enormous gathering for gays). This, by far, is the best feeling, dancing in a line of volunteers, waving to the crowd, and being part of the human race, who have so much in common, but the immaculate similarity here is positivity and homosexuality. Accepting myself has been one of the most challenging aspects of my young life, but now I stand as an integral member of the lezzer community. I’ve never been so proud to be myself, never felt more connected, than I do now marching.
This is what happiness is. Spending the day volunteering for an event, which supports a cause I am deeply passionate about. These are the moments I live for; meeting and gathering with people who extinguish the feeling I have of being the alone or different. We are all one in the same. These moments are so exhilarating that I’m drained! Although I’m completely exhausted from all the walking (26, 003 steps in total), the amount of joy that fills me witnessing such amazing support from the LGBTQQ community and our allies gives me life. I have enough adrenaline to walk another five blocks to Mission. Nachos and cerveza replenish my body for the journey home and an even larger fiesta the following day…