By Los Angeles Blade Staff
On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based Dykes on Bikes organization announced the death Soni Wolf, one of its founding members and early Lesbian Rights Movement Pioneers. Wolf died last Wednesday, April 25, in her sleep of natural causes at the age of 69.
Dykes on Bikes has become staple of LGBTQ Pride Parade events around the United States and globally. Soni and other lesbian motorcycle enthusiasts were featured at the head of the annual SF Pride Parade starting in the late 1970s, which later developed into a long-standing tradition with Pride Parades.
Kate Brown, spokesperson for the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes, spoke about her legacy.
“Soni leaves an indelible mark on history and especially on those who shared her daily life. She steadfastly refused to accept ‘Dyke’ as an epithet. She blazed the trail for the rest of us in courage and LGBTQ pride,” Brown said. “She taught me leadership takes many forms; there is strength in patience, power in listening, and small acts have a way of being defining moments in history. Like the roads we ride, our lives take many twists and turns. I am forever grateful for the route that brought Soni into my life.”
Over the course of forty years with Dykes on Bikes, Soni helped the organization evolve into a 501(c)3 non-profit, spearheading the group’s mission to create a national and international community of women’s motorcyclists supporting philanthropic endeavors in LGBTQ communities. San Francisco Dykes on Bikes is the mother chapter to all Dykes on Bikes charters. There are currently 16 chapters worldwide throughout the US, Europe, and Australia.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Brooke Oliver Law Group represented Dykes on Bikes in an action to register its name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which had initially rejected the application on the grounds that the term “Dykes on Bikes” is disparaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. On July 11, 2007, a federal appeals court issued a final ruling affirming the group’s trademark of the name “Dykes on Bikes.”
Upon learning of Wolf’s death, NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter said; “I was so proud to represent Soni & Dykes on Bikes, along with the legendary San Fransisco attorney Brooke Oliver, in their trademark case. Soni was fearless, one of the bravest people I have ever known.”
NCLR’s Executive Director Kate Kendell added: “On her motorcycle, Soni Wolf blazed a new path forward for women and lesbians by defying gender stereotypes and boldly demanding recognition of our community on our own terms. NCLR was honored to represent Dykes on Bikes, and Soni, in its challenge for recognition, and today, we mourn this loss for our community. Soni was a fierce advocate whose life exemplified the power of visionary courage, freedom, and feminist solidarity. We’ve been immeasurably enriched by knowing her, and next month at Pride, we’ll see Soni’s legacy live on.”
From the Dykes on Bikes Website regarding its History: “In 1976 a small group of 20-25 women motorcyclists gathered at the head of the San Francisco Pride Parade and, unbeknownst to them, a tradition began. One of these women coined the phrase “Dykes on Bikes®” and the San Francisco Chronicle picked it up and ran with it.
For the next several years, riders just showed up and rode—no formal organization or registration. It was this way for several years until the middle to late 1980s. However, as San Francisco Pride became more structured and the group’s numbers kept growing, the need to organize Dykes on Bikes® became necessary; thus, the Women’s Motorcycle Contingent (WMC) was born.
However, in the press and LGBTQ culture, they continued to be known as Dykes on Bikes®. In 2003, the organizers voted to recognize our long history by changing the name to the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes® Women’s Motorcycle Contingent (SFDOBWMC).”
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.