On this day April 25: Soni Wolf, Dykes on Bikes

Dykes on Bikes soni wolf april 25 By Charlie Nguyen from Berkeley, CA, United States of America - IMG_4439, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107273077 april 25 soni wolf
Image: Charlie Nguyen

Soni Wolf, co-founder of Dykes on Bikes, died on April 25, 2018. A driving force of the iconic group, she fought all the way to the US Supreme Court for the Dykes on Bikes’ right to trademark their name and logo.

Soni Wolf served as a medic in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Because of her trauma over the treatment of veterans, she never spoke about that time of her life. Following the war, she left the Air Force and moved to The Castro, San Francisco’s gay district.

In 1976, Soni joined a group of 20 – 25 lesbians on motorbikes in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Individual lesbians had ridden bikes in the parade previously but had problems with their bikes overheating because of having to idle behind marchers. So, in 1976, the group moved to the front of the parade, a position proudly taken by Dykes on Bikes around the world ever since.

A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle overheard one of the women refer to the group as Dykes on Bikes and the name stuck.

“It rhymes,” said Soni Wolf, “Just kind of rolls off the tongue.”

Dykes on Bikes quickly became a highly visible symbol of queer pride with contingents across the US and around the world.

Dykes on Bikes ®

From 2003, Soni Wolf led Dykes on Bikes’ legal battle to register first their name and then their logo. Soni wanted to protect the name from commercial exploration.

“That’s not what we’re about. That word (dyke) has been used for years to tear us down. And we said, ‘OK, we’re going to take it back’.”

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) lost two court battles over denying Dykes on Bikes the use of their name and logo. The PTO claimed the word dyke was offensive to a significant portion of the lesbian community.

But Soni Wolf beat them twice, arguing that lesbians had the right to reclaim the former slur. The second court case went all the way to the Supreme Court which finally decided in favour of Dykes on Bikes just months before Soni’s death.

Soni Wolf said in her submission to the Supreme Court that she was proudly a dyke.

“If I must be labelled other than as a ‘person’, ‘human being’, or ‘woman’, I choose ‘Dyke’. ‘Dyke’ is a strong word and I say it with pride. ‘Dyke’ expresses my pride in myself, my existence, and in what I have accomplished. I am gay — I am a lesbian — I AM A DYKE!”

Related Viewing: Dykes on Bikes® Sydney: An origin story

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