Plans for expanded Heklina memorial unveiled

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Friday April 28, 2023
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Plans are underway for an expanded memorial for the late drag artist Heklina. Photo: Gooch
Plans are underway for an expanded memorial for the late drag artist Heklina. Photo: Gooch

Due to overwhelming demand, organizers of the upcoming memorial for drag icon Heklina have announced that San Francisco's Castro Street will be closed Tuesday, May 23, and the service projected onto screens outside so that more people can watch it.

There will also be a stage on Castro Street that will begin programming in the late afternoon for "Heklina: A Memorial (She Would Have Hated This)."

Drag artist Peaches Christ, aka Joshua Grannell, who was one of Heklina's best friends, posted the changes on Facebook April 28. Stefan Grygelko died April 3 while in London, where she was to have performed "Mommie Queerest" with Peaches. She was 55.

Working with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Castro Street between Market and 18th streets will be closed at noon that day. At 5 p.m., entry into the Castro Street stage area will begin. There will be tributes to Heklina on stage from 6 to 8 p.m. The stage will be hosted by LOL McFiercen and Dulce De Leche, according to the announcement.

At 7 p.m., entry into the Castro Theatre will begin for ticketholders only. That event is sold out. The memorial will be from 8 to 10:30 p.m. and will be livestreamed onto Castro Street.

In the post, Peaches thanked SFMTA; Another Planet Entertainment, which manages the theater; and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for helping with the revised memorial plans. When the event was announced a couple of weeks ago, the tickets were gone within hours and conversations began about how to accommodate the many people who did not secure tickets.

In a brief phone call, Mandelman said April 28 that his office was "glad to help apply and get the street closure" and that a lot of people wanted to bid farewell to Heklina.

"We're grateful to MTA," he added.

Peaches noted that organizers have also started a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses. "As you can imagine, this has added considerable expense including the cost of permitting, police officers, etc. and we are hoping friends and fans can help out and chip in so that we can cover expenses," Peaches wrote.

The campaign has so far raised just over $8,600 of a $10,000 goal.

Heklina was a pioneering figure in the San Francisco drag scene and an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ lives, according to a statement released by her estate after her passing. She was the co-founder of the iconic and transgressive drag night Trannyshack, which became an important mainstay of the San Francisco nightlife scene in the 1990s and 2000s. (The name of the show was later changed to Mother.)

A longtime city resident, Heklina joined D'Arcy Drollinger and bought a stake in the San Francisco South of Market LGBTQ nightclub Oasis but later sold it and moved to the Coachella Valley in Riverside County.

The statement from Grygelko's estate added that Heklina's "work as a producer and performer included collaborations on stage and on film, with one of her best friends Peaches Christ. Heklina's accomplishments as a performer, producer, and transgressive LGBTQ+ rights advocate have left an indelible mark on drag, the entertainment industry, San Francisco, and the queer communities worldwide."

Heklina's sudden death prompted an outpouring of support in the Bay Area and around the world. In her own statement she emailed to supporters of Oasis April 4, Drollinger called Heklina's passing "a devastating blow to the community" that was personally heartbreaking.

"I have known Heklina for 34 years. Opening the Oasis was a crowning achievement we shared, after performing for so many years in other people's venues, to create our own space was a dream neither of us believed we could do and yet we did it together," wrote Drollinger. "She's been my Carrie Bradshaw, my Janet Wood, my Darlene Conner, my Phoebe Buffay, and my Dorothy Zbornak. Heklina could push all my buttons and at times make me crazy and I still love her."

Drollinger added, "I was there the very first time she ever did drag, it wasn't a pretty sight. In my wildest dreams I wouldn't have expected her to become such an icon. And yet she did."

Tributes to Heklina in the form of placards and posters were visible at the "Drag Up! Fight Back!" protest march that was held April 8 in San Francisco.

On April 11, Nicole Murray Ramirez, a Latino drag queen and community leader based in San Diego, told the Bay Area Reporter that Heklina will be inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in June. Recently deceased Portland, Oregon drag queen Darcelle XV will also be inducted, said Murray Ramirez, who helps oversee the memorial project as a member of the Imperial Court System.

In accordance with Heklina's wishes, Grygelko's estate encourages those who wish to remember Heklina to support their favorite queer organization and/or the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.

Updated, 4/28/23: This article has been updated with new GoFundMe total raised.

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