Heklina to be inducted on LGBTQ Wall of Honor

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday April 11, 2023
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Heklina performed in February 2020 at her last Mother show at Oasis. Photo: Gooch
Heklina performed in February 2020 at her last Mother show at Oasis. Photo: Gooch

The late drag artist Heklina will be inducted onto the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in June, according to Nicole Murray Ramirez, a Latino drag queen and community leader who helps oversee the memorial project as a member of the Imperial Court System.

Heklina, the drag persona of Stefan Grygelko, was found dead in London April 3, according to her friend Peaches Christ, who was with Heklina as they were set to perform "Mommie Queerest" in the city. Heklina, 55, had long lived in San Francisco until moving to Palm Springs several years ago.

On April 12, Juanita MORE! announced that a memorial will be held Tuesday, May 23, from 8 to 11 p.m. at the Castro Theatre. For more information, click here.

Information shared April 7 from Peaches; D'Arcy Drollinger, owner of the Oasis LGBTQ nightclub in San Francisco; and Grygelko's estate stated that police did not suspect foul play or assault in Heklina's death, according to a post mortem performed by London officials.

Murray Ramirez told the Bay Area Reporter April 11 that Heklina and Darcelle XV, a drag queen and former empress in Portland, Oregon, would be inducted in the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor. The memorial to deceased LGBTQ luminaries was started in 2019 as part of the Stonewall 50 anniversary. The Stonewall riots of 1969 are viewed as the birth of the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.

Darcelle XV will be inducted into the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor. Photo: Instagram  

Darcelle XV, the drag persona of Walter Cole, at 92 was the world's oldest living drag queen until her passing. She died March 23 in Portland.

"I knew both of them," Murray Ramirez said during a phone interview. "They inspired and entertained a lot of people."

Murray Ramirez said that as soon as she learned of the two drag artists' passing, she immediately contacted representatives of the National LGBTQ Task Force, which partners with the Imperial Court on the honor wall. This year's induction ceremony is set to take place at 2 p.m. (Pacific) Thursday, June 22, at the iconic gay bar, now part of a national historic site.

Murray Ramirez, as the Queen Mother I of the Americas and Nicole the Great, is the titular head of the Imperial Court System, the philanthropic drag organization that began in San Francisco in 1965.

"Darcelle was a role model for me," Murray Ramirez added.

As for Heklina, she was remembered at the April 8 "Drag Up! Fight Back!" march and rally that took place in San Francisco. People carried posters with her photo, and she was mentioned during speakers' remarks.

"Heklina as a performer made you laugh," Murray Ramirez said. "That's a gift."

Heklina was a pioneering figure in the San Francisco drag scene and an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ lives, the statement explained. 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.)

She later sold her stake in Oasis 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."

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.

The London Metropolitan Police did not immediately respond to an email requesting additional information on Heklina's death.

Murray Ramirez said that five other people will be inducted this year.

Updated, 4/12/23: This article has been updated with information for a memorial for Heklina.

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