Sydney’s Dykes on Bikes have been roaring down motorways and bringing visibility to queer women for 30 years. Matthew Wade caught up with a few of them to find out why they’ve been such a vital part of our LGBTI community.
Growing up in the regional town of Albury, Colleen Wornes can vividly recall the moment she saw the Dykes on Bikes for the first time: it was in her living room, watching a broadcast of the Mardi Gras parade.
Her mother had allowed her to watch it for the first time, and she was over the moon.
“I remember that one of the Dykes had a t-shirt that said ‘muff diver’ on it, and I thought she was so cool,” she says.
The Sydney contingent of Dykes on Bikes have been roaring along motorways for 30 years now, providing visibility to queer women and protection to the LGBTI community along the way.
At a time when the queer community was being targeted with homophobic violence and harassment, and gay and bisexual men were being murdered at beats, the Dykes would patrol the streets around Sydney’s gay district to help scare away prospective perpetrators.
Wornes joined the group after chatting with her now-partner Donna online more than a decade ago, and the pair currently live in Dubbo. Within the Dykes on Bikes, they’re affectionately referred to as the “Dubbo girls”.
“”It just gets better and better,” she says.
“And living in Dubbo we see how important it is for the Dykes to be visible in regional and rural areas – every year the locals will ask about Mardi Gras, and whether we’re heading along.
“And we often wear our leather jackets, our hats, and our Dykes on Bikes t-shirts, and people instantly recognise us and know who we are.”
She adds that while they occasionally cop a judgemental glance or disapproving stare, most of the people in Dubbo have been warm and accepting.
“We were on our way home the other day and a young man walking with his daughter looked us up and down, but he’s one of the very few,” she says.
“We just need to continue doing what we’re doing. There’s no need for us to go anywhere.”
Sydney’s Dykes on Bikes President, Lyn Doherty, joined the group in the noughties as well. She had grown up socialising with the Dykes at her local pub, and saw them as a big part of what being a lesbian was.
“If you were drinking – like nearly all the lesbians around my age – you knew the Dykes on Bikes,” she says.
“I’ve always identified as a dyke, and I loved the fact that they used it.
“They were out and proud, and had a ‘don’t take shit from anyone’ image which was nice to see especially among women… it was nice to have them as role models.”
While the Dykes on Bikes have traditionally been surrounded by misconceptions that they’re simply a group of Harley-riding diesel dykes who drink and live hard, Doherty is quick to point out that this isn’t the case.
On the contrary, she says the diversity within the Sydney contingent is incredible, and has helped bring vital visibility to all kinds of women under the rainbow umbrella.
“In the nineties the stereotypes served us well, because the image of a scary lesbian in leather helped to stop people from doing the wrong thing,” she says.
“But now the landscape has changed completely – we still have leather-clad lesbians who are extremely strong and powerful, but we also have high femmes, gender neutral riders, and trans riders.
“Our presence over the past 30 years has been so important. I love the idea that we ride through the streets [in Sydney and regional towns] and young people get to see these empowering women being themselves.”
She says hopes they can continue riding for the next 30 years, and inspire the next generation of queer women.
“During the marriage equality rallies I had young people come up and thank us for being around, and I hope some of them take up motorcycle riding,” she says.
“We need strong female role models and the Dykes on Bikes can help people feel comfortable with themselves, no matter how they look or identify.”
A more recent member, Kendal Walton, starting riding three years ago when she wanted to experience the “rush” of leading the Mardi Gras parade.
Based in the Blue Mountains, she says wearing her rainbow wings or vest helps get the word out in regional and rural areas.
“I’ll have my vest on with big beautiful rainbow wings, and when I’m walking down the street in my town people will say they love what I’m wearing,” she says.
“I think it will rub off on younger people seeing us out there.
“I hope it makes people struggling with their sexuality feel more comfortable.”
As a committee member, Walton also loves the work the group does outside of Mardi Gras and their monthly rides. They take part in many fundraising events to help raise money for youth sexual health in the LGBTI community.
Walton adds that looking forward they hope to keep the spirit of the club alive.
“We’re passionate about what we do and what we stand for, and we’ve been there throughout the history of Mardi Gras, showing female empowerment and a strong sense of community,” she says.
“I was in awe seeing them on television before I was old enough to attend Mardi Gras, and now being a part of it myself is just incredible.”
Sydney’s Dykes on Bikes were the cover stars for the March issue of Star Observer. To read the full magazine online click here.