Motorcycle clubs have always been a part of the LGBTQ struggle for equality. Growing out of the 1950s rebel ethos and inspired by the renegade bikers portrayed by Marlon Brando and James Dean, their countercultural iconography is one of individual empowerment and visibility underscored by a deafening roar.
Early on, such clubs became a vibrant subculture within Wisconsin’s gay and lesbian movement. More than 40 years ago, Si Smits became a face of Milwaukee’s LGBTQ community when he was featured riding his motorcycle in a WTMJ series, “Some Call Them Gay.” Later, Smits would found the Silver Star Motorcycle Club. Other clubs, like the Argonauts and the Castaways, would become part of Wisconsin’s LGBTQ landscape.
About the same time, Soni Wolf founded Dykes on Bikes in San Francisco. The lesbian motorcycle club has since become an international organization. Wolf died this year in April just weeks before she was slated to be the Grand Marshall of San Francisco’s Pride Parade. Aside from organizing Dykes and Bikes, she fought for its name and logo, winning cases for both before the U.S. Supreme Court. Interestingly, those cases were launched when a Wisconsin woman tried to use the “Dykes on Bikes” name to market a lesbian fashion line.
LGBTQ bikers represented what the straight world could not fathom: gay men not as fey and mincing stereotypes but as masculine, rough-and-tumble guys; and gay women not as nuns and spinster librarians but as tough, can-do gals. Both intimidated the social order into clearing the streets for LGBTQ rights. Tough as they appeared, bikers actively supported local LGBTQ and other charities like Toys for Tots.
The Milwaukee Pride Parade has had contingents of riders over its decades’ long history, including Dykes on Bikes and local motorcycle clubs. This past PrideFest sponsored its first Ride with Pride, a parade of LGBTQ and ally bikers that formed at the Harley-Davidson Museum and made its way to the PrideFest grounds. Anticipating 40-50 riders for this inaugural run, organizers were overwhelmed by the appearance of well more than 150.
The enthusiastic response to Ride with Pride inspired the formation of a social media group, Pride Rides Wisconsin (PRW). Again, expectations were modest. Within weeks, however, the Facebook community group matched the number of Ride with Pride participants and continues to grow. PRW holds three monthly recreational rides throughout Wisconsin allowing people in far-flung corners of the state to participate in local events. According to organizer Nick Bohn, the rides provide outreach, bringing an LGBTQ Bike Night to smaller communities to create a safe zone in a café or restaurant to let people be out and among likeminded people.
Like their predecessors, PRW also has a charitable mission, supporting CourageMKE’s house for homeless LGBTQ youth. The group also works with Harley-Davidson’s LGBTQ employee group, Eagle, as well as with the women’s rider group Stilettos on Steel. And, of course, PRW will be actively involved in Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary, and it participates in the weekly Iron Horse Hotel Bike Nights. Information on upcoming rides and other events can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
MANSFIELD – A fundraiser to help the operator of Wiener King buy back the business from the state has been planned for Oct. 13 at the Mansfield Motorcycle Club, 3593 Cookton-Grange Road, off Rock Road.
Tammy Barker Warner, a family friend of Jimmy Smarjeff, who is operating Wiener King, said members of the motorcycle club agreed to allow organizers to use the property to help Smarjeff.
She said all funds will go to help Smarjeff buy his business from the state.
The event will be noon to 7 p.m. Oct. 13. Barker Warner said she is looking for three bands who would donate their services to play for two hours each at the event.
She is planning to offer all kinds of hot dogs and food for sale.
There will be a “Best Costume Contest” for anyone who wears Halloween-themed costumes to the Wiener King fundraising event.
Barker Warner is planning to sell raffles tickets for prizes. She is still looking for gift certificates and prizes.
“If any small business owners in our community can help in any way, we would be grateful,” she said.
Admission will be $10 — or $5 for people who wear a Halloween costume.
Barker Warner said anyone who may want to help in any way may contact her on Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An account has also been set up at Mechanics Bank for “Save Wiener King.”
Other efforts to save Wiener King
Earlier this summer, a GoFundme account was established to help Smarjeff keep his business.
Smarjeff said the $50,000 GoFundMe fundraiser was set up in regard to financial problems relating to his father’s illness and his father’s estate, which is currently in Richland County Probate Court.
His father Christ and late mother Nancy started Wiener King in 1976. Christ is 92 years old and is currently residing in a nursing home.
“I have worked beside my father and mother at Wiener King for nearly all of the 40-plus years of operation,” Smarjeff said earlier this year in a Facebook post. “Asking for help is something that is very difficult for me to do. But, these desperate times require desperate measures. Thank you to all for your consideration.”
Past renovations and celebrations
In 2016, friends renovated the 118 Lexington Ave. business inside and out after a group of regulars at the restaurant, which opened in 1976, decided the restaurant needed an update..
The local restaurant celebrated its grand reopening and 40th anniversary on Oct. 24, 2016.
Local businessman John Matthes, a cruise-in regular, led the efforts to collect donations. He recruited the restaurant’s Thursday bike night crowd to help as well.
Next, the supporters temporarily ran the local restaurant on Lexington Avenue while Smarjeff recovered from heart surgery. He underwent a double bypass and had a heart valve replacement on Nov. 4, 2016.
Smarjeff said his daughter Jamie is working with him at business.