Not since the 2013 death of Jose Sarria, Absolute Empress I and one of the first openly LGBTQ+ people to run for public office in America has San Francisco’s queer community seen a memorial quite like this.
Castro Street between 17th and 18th streets was closed to vehicular traffic Tuesday afternoon in preparation for “Heklina: A Memorial (She Would Have Hated This), a tribute to the boundary-pushing drag performer who died suddenly at age 55 in London in early April. While tickets were free, registration filled up within minutes, spurring organizers to set up a stage outside the Castro Theatre with two screens to telecast the evening’s proceedings to a crowd that numbered in the hundreds in spite of the wind.
In rock-concert fashion, at least one person held up a cardboard sign outside the theater with a message begging for any extra tickets. Noted San Francisco drag queen Grace Towers rehearsed "My Way," with reworked lyrics to honor the deceased Heklina, whose brand of raunchy emceeing changed helped to change drag as an art form.
When performed in full, the number was without a doubt a highlight of the night—and in honor or a queen who adamantly preferred performers who lip-sync over those who sing.
Tom Temprano—who, as DJ Carnita, coproduced the long-running party Daytime Realness at El Rio with Heklina and Stanley Frank Sensation—told The Standard he was still grappling with the passing of his friend and colleague.
"I thought she would eulogize me," Temprano said.
The Bay to Breakers edition of Daytime Realness was this past Sunday.
By 5:30 p.m., bars with parklets had already filled up with mourners, many in full drag. By 6 p.m., the line for entry into the theater had snaked around the block and then some. A nightlife-heavy neighborhood whose post-Covid recovery has been difficult and uneven, the Castro is using the edgy and notoriously foul-mouthed Heklina’s death as a pretext for a party—solemn and joyful all at once.
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]