The Dyke Night Riots was originally published in ‘Waking the Witch zine – Envisioning an Unrepentant Queerness‘ which was a collaboration of San Francisco ACT UP, Homonomixxx, and Gay Shame for the Streetopia panel with Sarah Schulman
Many people would say that it was the Dyke Night riots that started the change. That was the first night that the streets became alive — not just with drunken dykes — but with drunken dykes and faggots and trans people on a rampage.
The match was struck when the Upright Parental Brigade (UPB) demanded a revocation of the permits for Trans and Dyke convergences in Dolores Park. This happened after the playground had been remodeled — transforming it from a splintering ship that faggots commandeered at night and a sandpit that hid condom wrappers, into an ergonomic, brightly colored plastic paradise. Designed for optimal early childhood development, excursions to this playground would give little Azaelia or Brody a head start for the prestigious private kindergarten, one for which they’d been on the waiting list since the first attempts at insemination.
At first the revamped playground was innocuous — a segregated island looked down upon warmly by the regulars of the fruit loop, the tanned and drunken faggot zone that encircled the playground. But then came the increased policing. Instead of pot brownies, the park economy shifted to margarita-flavored cupcakes. Cold Beer Cold Water man got arrested. A fence was built around the playground with a metal sign reading “DOGS KEEP OUT ” — within a week someone had crossed out “DOGS” and written in “GAYS.” The 10 pm curfew became absolute as cops issuing citations to the homeless people sleeping and the teenagers drinking Carlo Rossi, swinging in the night breeze.
The trans and dyke marches had met in Dolores Park as long as anyone could remember. UPB, in their appeals to the Board of Supervisors, were clear that they were not homophobic in their desire to move the marches elsewhere — maybe Daly City? They liked the GLBT flair, and of course many of the UPBs were of the homosexual persuasion themselves.
However, they simply could not let the park be overrun by that type of queer rebellion — drugged and sexually predatorial beasts drunk in the glory of the mob. Near the train tracks — girls peeing standing up, boys squatting; garish makeup and bared breasts. Children simply could not be exposed to such hedonism. Studies showed that children exposed to ritualistic explosions of sexual decadence were 50% more likely to drop out of high school.
Really though, the city catering to the expanding spawn pool of the Silicon Valley boom was what sparked it off…San Francisco had been asking for an uprising. Corporation tax shelters, condos, coffee shops, sky-high rents, prostitution busts, pot club raids, sit and lie laws, Ellis Act evictions, disappearing social services, and BART cop brutality — the simmer had been growing into a boil for quite some time.
Two weeks earlier all of the HIV prevention workers in the city were told that due to the new prevention strategy — “Test, Tag and Release” (TTR) — they were no longer needed in their current counseling duties. However, in recognition of their hard work thus far in the endemic, they would be given free training for new careers testing and tagging HIV+ people — leaving small surveillance chips in the right ear that both tracked movement and also transmitted a “harmless but shocking” reminder beep that would go off four hours past the time people were due to take their meds and would not stop until medication had been detected in the bloodstream. They would also be branded with a special tattoo that broadcast their viral load on their forehead. Some of the more weathered workers signed up for the training, but the rest quit en masse.
Was it the apocalypse coming? We’d all been planning for that for years. Andrew Sullivan and his common-law husbear Newt Gringrich were slated to be the king and queen of PRIDE. Was it a sign from the goddess? Maybe it was Mercury retrograde, but maybe it was the end of the world.
When the trans march gatherers showed up at the park and were met with police barricades, it was a shock. We’d heard the rumors — the Department of Public Works had contracted with the Voter Guide to add on page 67 “The city regrets to inform citizenry that the trans and dyke marches have been rerouted this year from Dolores to the archery fields in Golden Gate Park. Please enjoy your homosexuality and transexualism soberly — no homo”. No one expected the scene we were greeted with however.
The cops were flanked by the UPB holding signs reading “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” and “COMPROMISE IS THE SPIRIT OF THE FUTURE.” Some queens tried to play red rover with the cops, and a group of black blockers ran home for their bandanas and set a neighboring coffee shop on fire. The rest of us didn’t know what else to do, so we went home to plot and snort ketamine. The evening news said that the people who had gotten on the bus for Golden Gate Park had arrived and archery practice had not been canceled. There was one fatality — one dude-bro was shot with his own cross bow. The archery supplies were raided. It was also reported that a local gun show had been besieged by a coven of black trans women who left with a flame thrower.
Nobody really knew what was going to happen the next day. There was concocting and complaining and angst and apathy. We all showed up at the park again though. Some people thought we had won, others just wanted to see what would happen, and lots of people still had no idea what they would be faced with and had just come to party.
The cops, however, thought they had won the battle. There was no riot line, just many terse-faced police. Every time someone lit up a cigarette or opened a bottle or took off their shirt they would get put in the paddy wagon. This went on for an hour, all of us sitting silently on our picnic blankets rigid with fury. Then the dam broke. A bejewled trans woman started chanting “PIGS GET OUT, PIGS GET OUT.” Then we all were shouting and then we were standing and thousands of us were advancing on the cops. Some cops were brought down, most were just herded out of the park.
But it didn’t stop there. We moved in units: dykes on bikes, dopey faeries, soccer butches, daggers, piss pigs, and radical queerdos taking out the trash. We pushed all the cops out of the Mission and continued into SOMA. Yuppies fled, hipsters went home to their parents in the Marina.
The media declared it a disaster zone. What it really looked like was this: wild animals released from our cages, at first cautious and lost, but within hours our gaits relaxed and our voices became joyful and excited. Each person as they looked into each other’s eyes saw we were committed to moving forward together, each of us ecstatic and hopeful.
Yes, we broke into the fancy restaurants that had scourged our neighborhoods, and yes, we took back the homes that we’d been evicted from. But there was no frenzy, it was just the right time. We talked to our neighbors who we’d passed wordlessly in the streets every day. We fucked each other against buildings, played basketball in the cop shop, and made giant pots of beans and rice to share. Off the computers and into the streets. We knew it was infectious, we knew it was dangerous, but we knew it was the something we would not go back from. The moment of change had arisen.