Soni Wolf: The first of the Dykes on Bikes
As we mentioned in a previous post, Soni Wolf of the Dykes on Bikes recently passed away at the age of 69.
Wolf died last April 25 of complications due to pneumonia and pulmonary disease at Seton Medical Center in Daly City.
Soni Wolf: Finding a home after the war
Wolf– or Soni S.H.S. Wolf, which was the name she adopted for herself– was a native of Rhode Island. She served as a medic in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War, treating veterans in a Texas hospital.
Lawyer Brooke Oliver, who helped Wolf defend the name ‘Dykes on Bikes’ in court, said: “She never told anyone what S.H.S. stood for, and she never talked about her time in the service because the treatment of the vets coming back from war had been so traumatic for her.”
After she was discharged, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area in the 1970s. She lived in the Castro district and worked managing copy centers for brokerages and law firms.
Wolf came to the fore when she first rode with a group of lesbians during the 1976 San Francisco’s Pride Parade. To avoid overheating their bikes, they rode in front of the parade.
During the parade, someone coined the term ‘dykes on bikes’ and it stuck when The San Francisco Chronicle used it. Wolf said of the name, “It rhymes. Just kind of rolls off the tongue.”
Soni Wolf’s legacy: Dykes on Bikes
When the organization Dykes on Bikes was founded as a non-profit, Wolf was one of the founding members. Aside from marching parades, the group was involved in philanthropic efforts in LGBTQ communities.
While Wolf became a mentor to the members of Dykes on Bikes, she also became a leader in the community such that she was “sainted” by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
But her greatest work was in leading the fight to have the name “Dykes on Bikes” legally recognized, fighting with Oliver all the way to the Supreme Court.
“Her message was simple: We’re proud of being dykes. We’re out and loud and proud and they rumbled down Market Street and started an international movement,” Oliver explained.
With Oliver as lead pro bono attorney, Wolf was primary witness for the applicant and it took five years in the Supreme Court. After, it took 10 years to protect the trademark at the high court.
Testimonials for the passing of Soni Wolf
Wolf’s death, LGBTQ and civil rights groups spoke of her passing. National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Executive Director Kate Kendell was one of those that issued the following statement.
“NCLR was honored to represent Dykes on Bikes, and Soni, in its challenge for recognition, and today, we mourn this loss for our community,” Kendell said.
Meanwhile, openly-gay San Francisco mayoral candidate and former state Sen. Mark Leno said, “Soni was a bold and indefatigable leader who led by example.”
Kate Brown, past president and current Spokesperson for the San Francisco Dykes on Bikes explained that Soni refused to accept “dyke” as an epithet and added that she was trailblazer in courage and LGBT Pride.
Brown said: “Soni leaves an indelible mark on history and especially on those who shared her daily life.”
Soni Wolf’s last ride for the community
Wolf was supposed to be part of the 2018 LGBT Pride Parade in San Francisco as a Community Marshall.
With her death, Dykes on Bikes said: “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.”
San Francisco Pride Executive Director George F. Ridgely, Jr. said: “Soni was an integral member of the San Francisco Pride family, and she will be missed.”
Likewise, a GoFundMe was set up for the Soni Wolf Memorial fund, which would help fulfill Wolf’s to gather a historical archive on Dykes on Bikes and larger LGBTQ community.