San Francisco Dykes on Bikes® Mourns Passing of Founding Member
Soni S.H.S. Wolf
San Francisco, CA. Monday, May 1st, the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes® Women’s Motorcycle Contingent announces 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. Soni passed peacefully of natural causes the night of Wednesday April 25th. 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 US 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 her 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 24th 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.
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 US, Europe, and Australia.
Please contact Kate@dykesonbikes.org for interview requests.
Update, May 7th, 2018
Today, Monday May 7th, Senator Scott Wiener adjourned the California State Senate in memory of Soni Wolf. Senator Wiener spoke of Soni's decades of activism, leadership, and commitment to the LGBTQ community. Thank you Senator Wiener for this wonderful recognition of Soni's life and contributions.
San Francisco, CA. July 2017: As some may know, our beloved Secretary Soni Wolf stepped down from administrative duties in 2017. Soni rode with the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes® for 40 years and was part of the movement in the late 1970s that brought us to the the front of Pride Parades around the world as a result. We honored Soni's decades of service to the LGBTQ community at our 2017 pre-Pride party. Please see the link below for the video feed.
Soni will always be a member of the Dykes on Bikes® and will be the only person to ever hold the title of "Secretary Emeritus". Our organization would not be where we are today with out the contributions of this legendary Dyke on a Bikes. Thank you Soni, for everything you have done to bring visibility to Dykes and help us reclaim for our own use the term "Dykes on Bikes". We can only hope to model ourselves after the example you have set for us.