Courtesy Felicia ElizondoVicki Marlane performing at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in San Francisco's Tenderloin District in 2003.

Exhibit celebrating transgender pioneer Vicki Marlane premieres at GLBT History Museum

If you’ve been to Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in the past two years, you might have caught a glitzy glimpse of the bar’s tribute to its once-signature entertainer Vicki Marlane. The divey dungeon disco at 133 Turk St. has displayed a photo of the celebrated transgender performer since her death July 5, 2011.

Starting Friday, more mementos of Marlane will surface around town. The GLBT History Museum is hosting an exhibit, “Vicki Marlane: I’m Your Lady,” featuring never-before-seen footage, photos and other artifacts.

“The exhibition has show programs dating back to the early 1960s, jewelry, high heels, a wig and a stunning gold dress that Marlane wore in her last decade as a performer onstage at Aunt Charlie’s,” said Don Romesburg, curator of the exhibit. “Even Vicki’s medical marijuana card will be on display.”

Marlane, who was grand marshal of the Pride Parade in 2003 and the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s “best drag queen” in 2009, started her career as a carnie in the 1950s before becoming a full-time female impersonator in the 1960s. In the span of her 50-year stage life, Marlane gained recognition performing as the Girl with the Liquid Spine, eventually becoming the subject of the documentary “Forever’s Going to Start Tonight.”

The entertainer’s treasure chest of relics comes courtesy of fellow transgender performer and community activist Felicia Elizondo, Marlane’s longtime friend and guest curator of the exhibit.

“Never in a million years would I have thought that a gay man would be helping us put on a museum exhibit with as much warmth and care as [Romesburg] has,” Elizondo told me, getting audibly emotional over the phone.

One of the original “screaming queens” of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot against police persecution, Elizondo still remembers a time when San Francisco’s gay men and the transgender community did not always embrace one another’s causes. Marlane is credited with helping stitch the local LGBT patchwork together.

“She didn’t care if people called her a ‘drag queen’ or however they wanted to label her, as long as she could perform and be onstage,” Elizondo said. “She opened a lot of doors for us transgender girls.”

After Marlane’s death, Aunt Charlie’s hosted a daylong celebration of life featuring a recurring slate of entertainers raising money for the AIDS Emergency Fund. Marlane willed most of her estate to Elizondo, while the furniture was sent to the Hot Boxxx Girls, weekend entertainers at Aunt Charlie’s.

Elizondo approached the GLBT History Museum with the idea to celebrate Marlane, but at first museum staffers were uncertain that Marlane was suitable for such recognition. With the help of Aunt Charlie’s owner Joe Mathieson and Marlane’s former emcee Gina LaDivina, Elizondo made the case that Marlane’s life and legacy were an essential storyline in local queer history.

“It’s not all about Harvey Milk,” Elizondo said.

Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at oraymundo@sfexaminer.com.

The “Vicki Marlane: I’m Your Lady” exhibit will run from Friday to Feb. 28 at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St. An opening reception is Friday at 7 p.m.

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