Soni S.H.S. Wolf, a founding member of Dykes on Bikes, has died at age 69.
Wolf died of natural causes last Wednesday, according to the San Francisco–based organization’s website. She had served as the group’s secretary and historian for many years, and stepped down from administrative duties last July.
She was part of a contingent of women on motorcycles who first led the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1976. One of the women informally dubbed the group “Dykes in Bikes,” and the name stuck after the San Francisco Chronicle picked it up, the website notes.
Wolf led the efforts to trademark the Dykes on Bikes name and logo. After the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office declined to register the name because officials there considered “dyke” a derogatory term, she worked with a team of lawyers to win the right to use the title. Later, Dykes on Bikes filed a friend of the court brief in another group’s Supreme Court case that eventually resulted in a decision striking down the office’s power to reject names it deemed derogatory.
“Soni leaves an indelible mark on history and especially on those who shared her daily life,” Kate Brown, a spokeswoman for San Francisco Dykes on Bikes, said on the website. “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.”
Wolf also “helped the organization evolve into a 501(c)3 nonprofit, spearheading the group’s mission to create a national and international community of women’s motorcyclists supporting philanthropic endeavors in LGBTQ communities,” according to the site. San Francisco Dykes on Bikes is the “mother” group to chapters around the world; there are currently 16.
In April, San Francisco Pride officials had named Wolf a community grand marshal of this year’s parade, which will be held June 24. To honor her, friends in the parade will carry the gas tank from the motorcycle she rode in the first Dykes on Bikes contingent. There will also be a public recognition of her contributions from the Pride mainstage that day, and a private memorial service will be held on another date.
“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 Pride executive director George F. Ridgely Jr. in a prepared statement. “Soni was an integral member of the San Francisco Pride family, and she will be missed.” As usual, Dykes on Bikes will be at the head of the parade.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which was involved in the Dykes on Bikes legal case, released this statement: “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.”
A memorial fund has been established to support the preservation of documents important to the history of Dykes on Bikes, and donations are being taken at a GoFundMe page. Additionally, Dykes on Bikes has created an email address where those who knew Wolf can share their memories: RememberingSoni@dykesonbikes.org.