Reflecting on the Life of Dykes on Bikes Founding Member Soni S.H.S. Wolf

Reflecting on the Life of Dykes on Bikes Founding Member Soni S.H.S. Wolf

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Soni S.H.S. Wolf/Photo: Sarah Karlan
Soni S.H.S. Wolf/Photo: Sarah Karlan

The San Francisco Dykes on Bikes Women’s Motorcycle Contingent announced the death of Soni S.H.S. Wolf, a founding member of Dykes on Bikes and an inspiring mother of the movement for lesbian pride and dignity, earlier this week. Soni passed peacefully of natural causes the night of Wednesday April 25.  Soni was 69 when she died and is survived by Dykes on Bikes around the world who follow in her footsteps.

Kate Brown, past President and current Spokesperson for the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes had this to say: “Soni leaves an indelible mark on history and especially on those who shared her daily life. Soni steadfastly refused to accept “Dyke” as an epithet. She blazed the trail for the rest of us in courage and LGBTQ pride. 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.”
Soni began riding with her sisters at the front of the SF Pride Parade in the late 1970s, shortly after the movement for women’s empowerment and visibility brought Dykes on Bikes to the parade’s front. 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.
Over 14 years, Soni guided a team of lawyers led by Brooke Oliver at 50 Balmy Law, who worked pro bono to successfully argue, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court twice, that the trademark Dykes on Bikes signifies pride within our community and is protected as political speech. Dykes on Bikes’ legal strategy helped overturn an unconstitutional law, part of the Lanham Act, in what has been hailed as one of the most important Freedom of Expression cases in years (Matal vs Tam).
“Dykes around the world found their voices as Soni and her sisters rumbled down Market Street at the head of Pride for 40 years. Chapters around the world spread that tradition. We have lost a sister, a mentor, an inspiration who started an epic cultural shift. Her legacy lives on at the front of Pride Parades everywhere. Soni will always be riding at your side.” says Brooke Oliver.
In April, the Board of Directors of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee selected Soni as a Community Grand Marshal for the 2018 San Francisco Pride Parade. Soni was deeply touched and honored. George Ridgely, Executive Director of San Francisco Pride, speaking on behalf of the organization, said: “Soni’s legacy looms large at San Francisco Pride. Our theme for 2018 is Generations of Strength, and it is with immense gratitude that we recognize and celebrate Soni’s life and contributions. The Dykes on Bikes contingent is an integral and essential component of our Parade. I speak both personally and on behalf of the entire organization when I say that Soni is greatly loved and will be missed”.
Soni will be represented in this year’s SF Pride by her closest friends carrying the historic and beautifully painted gas tank from the motorcycle Soni rode in the first Dykes on Bikes contingent in San Francisco.
Soni mentored many Dykes on Bikes, was a steadfast leader in LGBTQ community, and in 2016 was Sainted by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. She was a proud veteran of the United States Air Force. Soni moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s, never imagining she would find herself an advocate and leader in a historic movement for equality. The iconic imagery, words, and legacy of Dykes on Bikes would not be what they are today without Soni Wolf.
A public recognition of Soni’s life and contributions to the LGBTQ community will take place on Sunday June 24 on the SF Pride main stage. The San Francisco Dykes on Bikes created a special email address (RememberingSoni@dykesonbikes.org) where everyone can send their thoughts, memories, stories, and goodbyes to Soni. A private memorial service for Dykes on Bikes and Soni’s close friends is also scheduled.
The Soni Wolf Memorial fund has been established for those wishing to contribute. Soni was the Dykes on Bikes’ longstanding secretary and historian, and in 2016 was granted Secretary Emeritus status. Soni’s wish was that the documents and materials with historical significance to the Dykes on Bikes and larger LGBTQ community in her care be archived and the fund will be used in part to support those efforts. Donations to the Soni Wolf Memorial fund established through the Dykes on Bikes are tax-deductible. Contributions to the fund can be made through GoFundMe at the Soni Wolf Memorial Fund Website.
STATEMENT FROM SAN FRANCISCO PRIDE:
San Francisco Pride mourns the passing of one of our sisters, Soni Wolf. Soni was a fierce advocate for Dykes on Bikes and we admire the passion that Soni brought to her lifelong work. Dykes on Bikes have inspired generations around the globe, and they continue to bring joy to hundreds of thousands of spectators each year on Market Street.
Soni challenged us all to be a little braver, to live as loud as the motorcycles that lead the Pride Parade every year. Soni embodied the ethos of Pride – celebrating our unique San Francisco culture, and educating society about our amazing contributions.
“Soni was chosen to be one of our Community Grand Marshals in this year’s Parade, and we look forward to celebrating her life by continuing the tradition she was so instrumental in establishing over 40 years ago,” said Executive Director George F. Ridgely, Jr. “Soni was an integral member of the San Francisco Pride family, and she will be missed.”
Dykes on Bikes will lead the procession of over 250 contingents, including community groups, affinity organizations, city agencies, local businesses, and corporate groups, down Market Street, on Sunday June 24. Crowds estimated at 100,000 will be on hand to cheer on 50,000+ marchers, as well as dozens of floats.
DYKES ON BIKES 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).
The WMC was started by LB Gunn, Kalin Elliot-Arns, Christine Elliot, Sabine Balden, and Mel. As one of the founding members, Soni Wolf rode at the front of the San Francisco Pride Parade every year for four decades and was the soul behind the group’s tremendous legal efforts to register their name and logo with the United States Patent Trademark Office. Today the group registers and organizes hundreds of bikes for the San Francisco Pride Parade. www.dykesonbikes.org/history.
San Francisco Dykes on Bikes is the mother chapter to all Dykes on Bikes charters. There are currently 16 chapters worldwide: throughout the U.S., Europe and Australia.

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