Trans Activist Vicki Marlane Honored With Street Name in Tenderloin

by Ashley Marguerite Heine on June 30, 2014

On the evening of Friday, June 27th, , at a Dolores Park rally before the Trans March began to the Tenderloin, Geena Rocero, activist, model and founder of Gender Proud, said “[…] we make our way to Vicki Marlane,” in the way adding a new meaning to a sign can often mean hearing both in the same sentence. For two years, The Vicki Marlane Memorial Campaign Committee with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club petitioned with the Board of Supervisors and particularly with Representative Jane Kim to rename the 100 block of Turk Street to honor transgender icon, Vicki Marlane. Activists won, and indeed, according to Gay Pride President, Gary Virginia, with a unanimous vote for “Vicki MarLane.”

It is the first time in San Francisco history for a street to be named after a transgender icon.

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After arriving, Felicia Elizondo, also known as Felicia Flames, pioneer during the Compton Cafeteria Riots, a Gay historian, and “an icon, a legend, 20 year survivor of AIDS and a Vietnam Veteran” stood at the back end of the diagonally parked, motorized cable car that rode with everyone who marched to Vicki Marlane. She said through a microphone, “this started with the death of my friend Vicki Marlane and like so many of us who have died and not been remembered for their contributions to this community, we talk about her life and what she went through in 76 years of her life, like so many of us, with so many different stories and what we had to do to survive, it is more visible in the film of her life “Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight.”

In the documentary by Michelle Lawler, Marlane says, “I started off my career as a hootchie cootchie dancer in the carnival. It was like a night club inside a tent.” Felicia Flames also writes on her web page, Screaming Queens, “Vicki Marlane opened a lot of doors in the 60’s and continues to be a role model for a lot of transgender women and the Drag Queens of today, and she loved to perform.” Marlane described being a performer, off and on, for 54 years. She is famous at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge. “I was known as the “the lady with the liquid spine” because, as she says, “of the contortions I went through.” About being on stage, she says, it is “such a big lift, it does so much for you inside. That someone appreciates you, people don’t even know you.” Arellano writes that she “was the oldest living, continuously performing drag performer.”

Marlane continues, “if anyone told me I was going to live to be 71, I would have laughed in their face” and “if I didn’t do this, I would be dead.” Felicia Flames, and many others, speak in detail to the history of day-to-day struggles and violence in the Tenderloin in “Screaming Queens: A Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria” by Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman. This history is recorded in the petition, too: “Vicki Marlane represented the trans community in a vibrant and visible way. That is how we want her to be remembered. We ask you to rename the 100 block of Turk St., between Taylor and ones, as Vicki MarLane. This block contained Aunt Charlie’s Lounge and the former site of Compton’s Cafeteria, where trans women and men resisted a police raid and stood up for their human rights in August 1966. We support a visible testament to Vicki Marlane and to the contributions to the trans community to San Francisco.”

At the event and during the march before the event, people spoke optimistically about what this renaming means for the neighborhood, San Francisco and the trans community, together. Just before the march, at Dolores Park, Mark Leno, California State Senator, said, “given the Renaissance that the Tenderloin is experiencing right now, I think she will give added energy and appropriate bit of history to the progress the neighborhood is making.”

In addition, a trans woman activist and resident of the Tenderloin, said that this will “give hope to the next generation, and the current generation, all generations, this cultural competence is coming around in the United States, San Francisco is a leader in that. San Francisco is a leader in cultural competence, we have so may different cultures and one of the cultures that really contribute to our society are the transgender community. My ancestors, we were the ones that started the Stonewall Protest, and here in San Francisco we have Vicki Marlane who has really done so much for our community, been involved in the community.”

The renaming for Vicki Marlane both spoke to a future and was itself a chance to presently materialize that future, to publically visualize homonationalism, racism, ablism, transphobia, and discrimination in health care, housing and employment and the work being done and the work that needs to be done to fight against it. Housing, of course, loomed large in crowded discussions. Felicia said, “I was tired of the T that the LGBT was silent and ignored, it will never happen again. We were nothing then an still nothing now, until this year, our community marched for equality and our time is now.”

Felicia Flame unveiled the street sign, “Vicki MarLane” and it appeared in comparatively smaller font below “Turk.” One person spoke to the curious placement of Vicki MarLane. From within the cable car as it was riding to the event, Kathy Stripling, a trans woman activist said, “I think it’s great, it’s kinda cool, the compromise is that you’re Vicki Marlane in parentheses, I think it should be the other way around, Turk in parentheses, and, but it is what it is, at least it’s a celebration.”

At the celebration, also on the cable car, Supervisor David Campos, said, “you know, Vicki Marlane when she was interviewed by the BAR said that the first time she appeared in a Pride parade in drag she was booed by the crowd including being booed by members of the LQBT community. There was a time and we don’t want to forget, when even in our own community trans people were not accepted, and we want to remember and today we are remembering an icon in this community because the T will always be a part of the LGBT we cannot be an LGBT community without protecting the rights of trans people.”

Near the end of speeches by representatives and friends, from inside the cable car, Felicia Flame drapes Vicki Marlane’s famous golden sparkling cloak for everyone to see it. Felicia Flame soon walked across the street to uncover and celebrate the sign. Everyone rejoiced and two people kissed and embraced each other under the new sign and afterwards, pop music played and a space was cleared for people to dance and watch each other dance.

It was stunning in an indescribable way that after this celebration, only moments after the event, it seemed that not many knew what had just happened.

Filed under: San Francisco News

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