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San Francisco drag artist Heklina dies

Stefan Grygelko passed away in London

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Heklina, a.k.a. Stefan Grygelko, died in London on April 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Jose A. Guzman Colon)

By Cynthia Laird | Stefan Grygelko, better known as his drag persona Heklina, has died, his longtime friend Joshua Grannell (Peaches Christ) wrote on Facebook April 3.

The two were in London where they were appearing in the “Mommie Queerest” show there, Grannell wrote, adding that he had gone to pick up Heklina that day.

“I do not know the cause of death yet,” Grannell wrote. “I know this is shocking news and I am beyond stunned, but I wanted to let folks know what has happened. Heklina is not just my best friend, but a beloved icon of our community.”

The news shocked and saddened his friends back in San Francisco, with fellow drag queen Sister Roma writing on their Twitter account that she was “absolutely devastated” to learn of the passing of his friend and collaborator for two-plus decades.

“She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. This is a nightmare,” wrote Roma, a member of the drag philanthropy group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, in a tweet.

Oasis, the LGBTQ nightclub in which Heklina was once a part-owner, expressed its sadness and said it would open at 4 p.m. Monday.

“We are shocked and devastated to learn of the passing of Heklina today,” the club wrote. “Oasis will be open at 4 p.m. for drinks, stories, and community, if you’d like to come by. Sending love to all.”

Gay former state assemblymember Tom Ammiano told the BAR he will miss the drag artist.

“A true professional [and] with drag under attack her passing is especially wounding,” wrote Ammiano, who also served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and school board. “As an aside, she bartended at events for folks with special needs at the Oasis [and] as a former special education teacher, I loved her for that.”

As Heklina, Grygelko was known for founding the old Trannyshack drag show in 1996 at the old Stud bar. (The name of the show was later changed to “Mother.”)

At the start of each Trannyshack, San Francisco’s outlandish, no-holds-barred Tuesday night drag show, a snippet of the old “Muppet Show” theme music warned “it’s a kind of torture, to have to watch the show,” as the Bay Area Reporter reported in 2008.

The joke belied the fact that the performances were more than just boys in dresses lip-synching to pop ballads or camp classics. The weekly shenanigans often masked what in reality was a uniquely queer riff on the political, social, racial, and gender controversies of the day.

Heklina invited not just drag queens — many of whom went on to become stars in their own right — but also female performers, known as faux queens, and drag kings to share her stage. By doing so, Heklina threw out the rulebook on what it meant to be a drag performer.

Adriana Roberts, a trans woman and an early Trannyshack performer, penned a tribute on Facebook.

“She was a Master Class in successful Nightlife Production: wrangling order from chaos, managing a stage, managing a crowd, putting down hecklers, assembling trusted crews, booking budding queens, promoting events, following one’s heart — but also always being aware of what actually sells,” Roberts wrote. “And she did it all with snark, wit, and balance for over 25 years.”

Roberts, a former production designer at the BAR, wrote, “Coming from a punk rock ethos, she created a space that welcomed performers from across the gender spectrum, at a time when drag was VERY codified into TIRED (her words) tropes of men in sequined gowns doing diva lip-syncs. None of us realized it at the time, but she helped revolutionize the concept of what drag could be, breaking its mold years before the rest of the world caught on.”

As the BAR noted in a March 2022 article, since the early 1990s, Heklina had been a mainstay in Bay Area queer nightlife. From the first irreverent drag nights at the Stud, to Trannyshack’s expansion at DNA Lounge that included annual contests, Heklina has often hosted the most prominent drag and nightlife events which included her own numbers.

In 2015, along with D’Arcy Drollinger and other investors, Heklina opened Oasis in South of Market; the same building that once housed the original Oasis. The new nightclub has become popular for not only drag shows and DJed dance nights, but comic plays and musicals, cabaret concerts and community fundraisers. Heklina later sold her share of Oasis ownership and moved to Palm Springs, while still keeping a foothold in the Bay Area’s nightlife scene.

And, of course, Heklina was known for her deadpan line delivery as Dorothy (Bea Arthur’s character) in stage productions of episodes of the classic sitcom “The Golden Girls.” The long-running show became an annual holiday tradition in San Francisco.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) issued the following statement Monday afternoon:

“I am absolutely devastated. Heklina was an icon in the truest sense — funny, caring, outrageous, and brave. I first saw Heklina perform when I was a young gay man in the 1990s, new to San Francisco. Over the years, I got to know her and helped her find a space for Oasis. I’ve rarely worked with someone as fierce, creative, and dedicated.

“Heklina created events and community spaces that spun glitter and giant wigs and raucous jokes into a feeling of home. She was fiercely outspoken and always stood up for her friends and community. She was the soul of San Francisco, and it’s hard to imagine the city without her.

“Heklina was also a staunch defender of drag — which is under extreme attack right now — and created opportunities for young drag queens to find their space. While we grieve, we must honor her memory by remembering the joy she brought us and the importance of the art form to which she dedicated her life.”

Nguyen Pham, board president of San Francisco Pride said in an emailed statement:

“Personally, I’ve been honored and grateful to have engaged with Heklina directly, as well as attended her spectacularly memorable productions, numerous times over the years.  I know that her unique brand of radically inclusive drag art has evoked so much pure joy from countless community members and allies for many generations. She was unstoppable and a master without parallel.”

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Cynthia Laird is the Editor-In-Chief and News Editor of the Bay Area Reporter. Laird is a long time journalist in the SF Bay Area having studied Government-Journalism at California State University, Sacramento. She and her wife live in Oakland.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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Adele shuts down ‘Pride sucks’ heckler at Las Vegas show

British singer is a long-time LGBTQ ally

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Adele (Screen capture via "I Drink Wine" music video on YouTube)

British pop megastar and longtime LGBTQ ally Adele reacted to a member of the audience who repeatedly yelled “Pride Sucks” in between songs during her show Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Adele, who is continuing her iconic residency, Weekends with Adele, at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, has been a strong LGBTQ supporter. Last year, she celebrated Pride Month during her Las Vegas residency wearing a black dress with a rainbow flag train and Pride-themed confetti. 

Sitting down on the piano bench next to her pianist bantering with the audience which is routine, the singer eviscerated the unseen audience member:

“Did you come to my fucking show to say Pride sucks? Are you fucking stupid?” Adele angrily said reacting. “Don’t be so fucking ridiculous. If you have nothing nice to say, shut up, alright?”

The incident, which was caught on cell phone footage and posted to X, has since gone viral:

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Actor Richard Dreyfuss mocks transgender people in misogynistic rant

‘Jaws’ star appeared at suburban Boston theater

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Richard Dreyfuss walked onto the stage wearing a blue floral pattern house dress, pausing to turn away from the audience and shake his hips suggestively, actions that were caught on multiple mobile phone video footage posted online. (YouTube screenshot)

Patrons at The Cabot theater in the suburban Boston town of Beverly were all set to celebrate the 49th anniversary viewing of the classic 1975 Steven Spielberg horror film “Jaws,” along with a question and answer with one of the film’s stars actor Richard Dreyfuss, when from the minute Dreyfuss appeared on stage, the event derailed.

Dreyfuss walked onto the stage wearing a blue floral pattern house dress, pausing to turn away from the audience and shake his hips suggestively, actions that were caught on multiple mobile phone video footage posted online. Then two stage hands appeared and tore the dress off the actor who then took his seat opposite the event’s moderator.

According to Variety and the Boston Globe’s reporting, Dreyfuss ranted about subjects reported to include transgender people, Barbra Streisand, the #MeToo movement, and women in general. As attendee Diane Wolfe described it to the Boston Globe, “[Dreyfuss] said that the parents of trans youth, allowing them to transition, was bad parenting and that someday those kids might change their minds.”

Facebook/social media advertisement for the ‘Jaws’ screening by The Cabot.

A number of members of the audience took offense and left the venue. On The Cabot’s Facebook page one attendee wrote: “This was disgusting. How could The Cabot not have vetted his act better. Apparently (I found out too late), he has a reputation for spewing this kind of racist, homophobic, misogynistic bull crap.”

The Cabot has since limited commenting on its page.

The Cabot Executive Director J. Casey Soward on Sunday apologized in a statement that read:

“We regret that an event that was meant to be a conversation to celebrate an iconic movie instead became a platform for political views. We take full responsibility for the oversight in not anticipating the direction of the conversation and for the discomfort it caused to many patrons,” Soward said. “We are in active dialogue with our patrons about their experience and are committed to learning from this event how to better enact our mission of entertaining, educating and inspiring our community.”

WBSM News Talk Sports Radio in New Bedford–Fall River reported that The Cabot also sent an email, that the station had been forwarded, to those who purchased tickets apologizing.

“Dear Cabot Patrons,

I am writing to address an important matter concerning last night’s event with Richard Dreyfuss at The Cabot.

We deeply regret that Mr. Dreyfuss’s comments during the event were not in line with the values of inclusivity and respect that we uphold at The Cabot. We understand that his remarks were distressing and offensive to many of our community members, and for that, we sincerely apologize.

At The Cabot, we are committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of our community. The views expressed by Mr. Dreyfuss do not reflect our beliefs, and we do not endorse them in any way.

We take full responsibility for the oversight in not anticipating the direction of the conversation and for any discomfort it caused.

We are taking immediate steps to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. This includes more rigorous vetting of our event participants and more proactive communication strategies to keep our audience informed.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support of The Cabot.

We value your feedback and are dedicated to learning from this experience to better serve our community.”

The actor has a lengthy record of anti-trans remarks and bigotry. He has directed transphobic rants about trans youth affirming their gender and has taken aim at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences calling out the Academy’s diversity efforts in a 2023 PBS’ Firing Line broadcast saying that the Academy’s focus on diversity “makes me vomit.”

“We’re so fragile that we can’t have our feelings hurt,” he also said. “We don’t know how to stand up and bop the bully in the face.”

Deadline reported that Dreyfuss apparently made similar comments at a Friday night “Jaws” screening at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H. “I live in Mass, but The Cabot showing was all booked so I saw him in N.H. on May 24,” a Facebook commenter wrote. “He made anti-gay remarks that night too.”

The actor has not responded to requests by multiple media outlets for comment.

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John Waters released from hospital after car accident

Crash took place in Baltimore County

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John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BY TAJI BURRIS | Baltimore filmmaker John Waters was released from the hospital Tuesday morning following a car accident.

The 78-year-old released a statement saying that although he was hurt in the Baltimore County crash, he did not sustain major injuries.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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