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Greenlight for PinkPurlGrrl!JIC Post:Attorneys find Dykes on Bikes patently offensive, reject nameBy Joe Garofoli, SF Chronicle Staff WriterVic Germany thought registering a federal trademark for San Francisco's iconic Dykes on Bikes organization would be no problem. After all, the nonprofit lesbian motorcycle group has become internationally known for riding in the lead position at San Francisco's pride parade every year for nearly three decades. Instead, the group has spent a humiliating two years slogging through the swampland of trademark law, with no end in sight, said Germany, president of the San Francisco Women's Motorcycle Contingent, a.k.a. Dykes on Bikes. Twice, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected the Dykes' application, on the grounds that "dyke" is vulgar, offensive and "scandalous." Patent office attorneys even point to Webster's dictionary, which says dyke is "often used disparagingly." "The examining attorney found it to be offensive to a significant portion of the lesbian community," said Jessie Roberts, a trademark administrator with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "And we're also looking out for the sensitivities of the general public more than that of a specific applicant." The applicants, in this case, prefer to call themselves dykes. "We self-identify as dykes on bikes," said Germany, a 48-year-old San Francisco environmental consultant. "To us, (the government's objection) is completely absurd." The push to codify "Dykes on Bikes" started two years ago when members of the San Francisco organization heard that a Wisconsin woman wanted to start a for-profit venture that would include a clothing line -- leathers and such -- using "Dykes on Bikes" as its label. "That's not what we're about," said Soni Wolf, 56, longtime secretary for the Dykes on Bikes and a pride parade participant since the late 1970s. "That word has been used for years to tear us down. And we said, 'OK, we're going to take it back.' " The women call themselves "dykes" for the same reason many gays have laid claim to "queer" -- to defang a word that has long been a slur. "I cannot imagine a more ironic twist of thinking than to judge this reclaimed badge of honor as insulting to the very community who has created its power," Joan Nestle, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, wrote in a declaration supporting the Dykes on Bikes' trademark request. "Lesbians do not need to be protected from their own cultural creations, their own transformations of stigmas." Cartoonist Alison Bechdel told the patent office that her 22-year-old strip, Dykes to Watch Out For -- which has sold 300,000 copies in collections worldwide -- "has uprooted the word 'dyke' from its negative connotations and planted it in a new context where it has flourished as a signifier for lesbians who are confident and open about their identity." The Dykes argue that they are succeeding in weaving the term into the cultural fabric. Roaring up Market Street on their motorcycles before thousands of onlookers at pride parades, San Francisco's Dykes on Bikes have paved the way for a dozen-plus similar groups elsewhere. There are Dykes Planning Tykes parents groups, a "Dyke TV" cable access show, and a site for "the Web-savvy dyke" called Technodyke.com. The federal paper-shuffling might seem superfluous to any Bay Area resident who has heard the street chant, "We're here. We're queer. Get used to it." But "queer," a longtime slur for male homosexuals, is different -- at least in the eyes of the federal trademarkers. In November, the patent office registered a trademark on behalf of the Bravo Network for the hit television show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." "So what's the difference between 'queer' and 'dyke'?" said Brooke Oliver, the Mission District attorney who is handling the Dykes' case. Germany pointed out that the case for "Queer Eye" was supported by a deep-pocketed television network. "And we're a nonprofit group full of working-class women," she said. The patent office's Roberts said she was unfamiliar with the "Queer" case but that apparently "queer" was deemed not to have been as vulgar as "dyke." Some of the women involved in the "dyke" case took the patent office rejection personally. For them, it reignited painful memories -- some not too distant -- of shouted insults labeling them "bull dykes." Germany, 48, said she heard that slur a lot as she was growing up in Marin County. She still hears it from hecklers who see the rainbow sticker on the back of her black motorcycle helmet. Her eyes filled with tears as described how her mother now rides with her at the front of the gay and lesbian pride parade. "She's one proud mama," Germany said. "She's proud of who I am. That's why, when I got that letter from the federal government denying this, it felt like a hate letter." This wasn't attorney Oliver's first experience before the patent office. She helped "San Francisco Pride" register as a federal trademark in 2002 and also assisted the United Farm Workers in beating back the Mexican airline Aeromexico's attempt to trademark Cesar Chavez's rallying cry "Si se puede," roughly translated as, "Yes, we can." The UFW's trademark for "Si Se Puede" was registered in 1998. "It's the same sort of thing," Oliver said. "The farmworkers associate that phrase with their blood and sweat." Oliver asked the federal office to trademark "Dykes on Bikes" for the group to use for "educational and entertainment purposes" such as parades and festivals. Although the Dykes thought they had an airtight case, Oliver was wary, having detected a whiff of "prudishness" in the patent office. Her earlier attempt to register products by Vixen Creations, a Bay Area company that makes dildos, under the toy category was rejected. They were eventually registered as medical prosthetic devices. Still, Oliver was a bit surprised when the patent office first rejected the Dykes' application in October 2004. And it has been personal at times for her. In trying to make her point over the phone to a federal patent attorney, Oliver said, "But I'm a dyke." Before reapplying, Oliver recruited the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, which asked scholars, linguists and activists to describe how the word "dyke" had evolved over the past 40 years. Filled with more than two dozen declarations of Harvard-trained scholars, nationally recognized psychologists and linguists, the submission is a lesbian history lesson. "What might have been true 10 or 15 years ago with respect to the implications of the word 'dyke' as applied to lesbians has continued to evolve," said Ronald Butters, a Duke University English professor who served as the New Oxford American Dictionary's expert adviser on homosexual terms. Shara Sand, a New York clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Yeshiva University, wrote, "My clients often speak of the 'dyke drama' in their lives, refer to themselves as 'strong dykes,' working for the 'dyke cause,' and loving being a 'diesel dyke.' " Patent office administrator Roberts is sympathetic, yet holds to the responsibilities of her agency. "Yes, there is sometimes a difference between what is going on in the street currently," she said. "But what we have to do is apply federal law." The patent office rejected the Dykes' reapplication in May. Examiners found nothing new that was "significant or compelling" enough to make them change their decision. The Dykes are appealing the decision to a trial panel in the office. For Wolf, it will be one more step in the effort to reclaim "dyke," almost 30 years after her first ride down Market Street. Politics and culture aside, there's a reason "Dykes on Bikes" resonates so much with people, Wolf said. "It rhymes," she deadpanned. "Just kind of rolls off the tongue."
a "Dyke" on a "Bike" by any other name...would still be just about the hottest thing my overtaxed imagination could conjure.The other day my partner was singing "no woman, no cry". I told her if she had no woman she'd cry all the time, and be hungry with no fresh laundry. She added "and I'd be on a motorcycle!" Dang, that's cold.
Brrr, indeed! Is she implying that for all the services you provide, you're still a high-maint grrlie?
From www.commondreams.orgSAN FRANCISCO - July 14 - The San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent announced today that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has refused their request to register their name, “DYKES ON BIKES,” claiming the slogan is derogatory to lesbians.“For 27 years, DYKES ON BIKES has proudly led the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade,” said Vic Germany, president for the group. “We embrace the word Dyke and are proud to celebrate our identity,” she said.“Dyke has been used for years to tear us down, shame us and keep us in the closet. But gay women everywhere have reclaimed the word as an expression of pride and empowerment,” said Soni Wolf, the group’s secretary. “Now DYKES ON BIKES contingents use this symbol of dignity and visibility with our blessing in Pride celebrations all over the country.”The nonprofit San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent was forced to seek registration of “DYKES ON BIKES” when an individual, unassociated with the organization, attempted to use the phrase for commercial purposes and wanted to charge contingents throughout the country for its use. The SFWMC organization decided to obtain a trademark to protect the non-commercial use of the name and its meaning to the LGBT community from private commercial use.Brooke Oliver, Founder/Managing Attorney of the Brooke Oliver Law Group, PC, and attorneys with the National Center for Lesbian Rights are representing the San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent. Oliver explained, “The Trademark Office initially rejected our application on the ground that the term “DYKES ON BIKES” is disparaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We responded with arguments and evidence trying to educate the USPTO about how “DYKES ON BIKES” is a symbol of pride in the LGBT community. After a second rejection, with help from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, we submitted extensive documentation from activists, community leaders, and scholars from across the country, demonstrating that the LGBT community considers the name “DYKES ON BIKES” to be a positive, empowering and affirming term. Now, the Trademark Office is claiming that the term “dyke” is “vulgar.”“What is striking is that USPTO failed to apply the correct legal standard for this case,” said Pablo Manga, associate attorney at Brooke Oliver Law Group. “The USPTO is supposed to consider whether a substantial composite of the LGBT community would consider ‘Dyke’ disparaging as it is used in ‘DYKES ON BIKES’ in Pride celebrations. Instead, the USPTO claims to be protecting the public at large, without regard to the views of the LGBT community.”As part of their submissions to the USPTO, Oliver and the National Center for Lesbian Rights submitted more than two dozen statements from distinguished academics and scholars, nationally recognized linguists and psychologists, and long-time activists about how the word "dyke" has evolved over the past 40 years to become a term of pride and empowerment when used by lesbians to describe themselves. “Dyke is widely understood in the LGBT community to mean a proud lesbian publicly demonstrating her identity and publicly celebrating her identity,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR Legal Director, “It is our belief that the Trademark Office has ruled incorrectly and we intend to take every possible step to insure that the reputation of a vital community organization is protected.”
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