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Last Saturday, the downtown streets of San Francisco were filled with colorful dresses, countless large wigs, and a plethora of handheld signs as over 1,000 LGBTQIA+ community members: drag kings and queens and their allies protested the proliferation of anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-drag legislative bills nationwide — 452 of them to be exact at press time. The march, which began at City Hall and ended with a rally and performances at Union Square, was organized by The People’s March, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the San Francisco Democratic Party.
The march and rally were also dedicated to beloved San Francisco drag queen Heklina who recently passed away at age 55.. Heklina, whose legal name was Stefan Grygelko, was also known for opening the famous nightclub OASIS in 2015.
“Every step we take today, we will honor Heklina,” said drag king Alex U. Inn before the march began and, through tears, added that the march and rally was going to be difficult because “Heklina would have been here.”
Heklina was a storied drag performer, actor, and LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur who co-founded the drag show “Trannyshack,” now called “Mother,” in the late 1990’s and co-founded OASIS in 2015 with D’Arcy Drollinger, Geoff Benjamin, and Jason Beebout. Prior to the march beginning around 11:50 a.m., the crowd was told not to engage with the “righty whities” that may appear along the march and everyone wearing heels was warned of the city’s notorious potholes.
LCRW’s correspondent did not heed the warning about potholes and eventually rolled his ankle in one. If you’d like to leave him a tip, check his author bio.
Despite warnings of right-wing antagonism, there weren’t any confrontations outside of a lone street preacher at City Hall who relocated across the street from the crowd after a talking-to by San Francisco Park Rangers.
Leading the very front was an old retrofitted bus—known as the “WOOL Bus”—that blasted electronic and popular music from an external DJ booth featuring drag queen Juanita MORE! Behind them, the march was fronted by a line of nearly a dozen drag performers including RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 contestant and current chair of the San Francisco Democrats, Honey Mahogany; San Diego’s Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a.k.a. “Empress Nicole the Great;” Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; the aforementioned Alex U. Inn; Santana Tapia; and owner of OASIS D’arcy Drollinger.
Energized, the crowd chanted “when queer rights are under attack, what do we do, stand up, fight back;” “this is what community looks like;” and “hey hey, ho ho, anti-drag bills got to go!” as they marched through downtown, filling up both Market and Powell towards Union Square. The march arrived around 12:45 p.m. and made its way up the stairs, quickly filling the majority of the plaza.
There, the crowd that had marched—and even the tourists who were enjoying their afternoon in the plaza—were treated to various speeches and drag performances throughout the following couple of hours.
Drollinger—who, by the way, wore the biggest, most fabulous wig that I have ever seen—read aloud a piece of writing about her friend and former OASIS co-owner, the late Heklina.
Another queen, Nicole Murray-Ramirez,the head of the International Imperial Court System that was founded in San Francisco in 1965, didn’t mince words and told the crowd “read my silicone lips: we are never going back in the closet.”
Olga Talamante, the board vice-chair of the Chicana Latina Foundation and longtime Bay Area activist, humorously noted that she had arrived in sportswear-type attire because she was ready to “take off her earring and run” towards whatever situation she needed to.
Interspersed with speeches were several drag performances. These included a lip sync performance of Patti Labelle’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by The House of MORE!’s Dulce de Leche and drag kings Jota Mercury and Luke Modelo lip syncing Andy Grammer’s “Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah),” eventually unrolling a large banner that read “drag is not a crime.”
Other speakers included U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Veteran and California State Assembly candidate Joseph C. Rocha; drag performer and political activist Terence Smith a.k.a Joan Jett Blakk; and openly gay California State Senator Scott Wiener who represents San Francisco County and a part of San Mateo County; and drag performer Shane Zal-Diva who had performed just prior.
Helping close out the performances and speeches before all attendees in drag face and attire were invited on stage to chant one final time, drag queen Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, wearing a pastel pink dress, held a storytime and read a children’s book by drag queen and board member of Drag Story Hour Lil Miss Hot Mess.
The book is called “The Hips of the Drag Queen Go Swish Swish Swish.”