BY RHIANNON SOLIMAN
For the past 27 years, Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade has begun with the roar of hundreds of motorcycles.
The women riding at the forefront of the 12,000-strong parade are part of Dykes on Bikes, a motorcycle club for queer women.
One of Australia’s oldest LGBTQI community groups, the club originated in the USA but now has chapters in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland.
Dykes on Bikes made its way to Australia after Sydneysiders Kimberly O’Sullivan and her partner Sue Perry attended San Francisco’s Mardi Gras parade where they saw thousands of women riding bikes through the crowd in what O’Sullivan described as “a spectacular demonstration of lesbian power, sex and visibility”.
First contingent rides in 1988
Thoroughly impressed, the couple told Deb Thompson, who spread the word to Sydney’s small lesbian community in an effort to get more women involved in Mardi Gras. Then, in 1988, eight women riding in that year’s parade made up the first Sydney contingent of Dykes on Bikes.
According to Lyn Doherty, President of Dykes on Bikes, this low turnout was not surprising.
“People were nervous … this was back in the 80s when people were being bashed and killed for being gay,” she said. “So the idea of coming out as a lesbian back then was a big step.”
As tolerance for Sydney’s LGBTQI community grew, Dykes on Bikes’ membership grew with it. Ten years after they rode for the first time, over 250 bikes took part in the festivities, and last year’s parade saw around 300 riders.
The theme of this year’s Mardi Gras is “Fearless”.
Dykes on Bikes will be leading the parade as they have since 1991, when they were asked to ride in front of the crowd for “logistical and ideological” reasons: to prevent the bikes from overheating due to the slow pace of the parade, and to clear the way for the rest of the marchers.
Spectacular demonstration of lesbian power
Dykes on Bikes holds a range of associated social and charity events for its members, from their annual “Black and White” Ball to various charity rides for organisations such as Pink Ribbon and the RSPCA.
With the club’s focus on individuality, it’s not surprising that their bikes are no different.
“We accept everything from tiny little Vespas and scooters to 2000cc Harley Davidsons and cruisers,” Lyn said.
In the future, she hopes to challenge some of the stereotypes commonly associated with the club.
“There is a perception out there that Dykes on Bikes are all big, hard-drinking, leather-clad, butch swearing women. And some of us are… [but] getting the diversity of the club out there is nice,” she said.
Despite coming a long way from the small group of women who made up the club over 30 years ago, Lyn still believes Dykes on Bikes plays an important role in bringing a marginalised group together.
“I don’t think it’s easy for the lesbian community… there are very few places they can go nowadays, so keeping things like this up and running is great.”