Before the Stonewall Revolution of 1969 in New York City, a trans woman in Chicago, IL was changing the world thousands of miles away from The Big Apple. Gloria Allen (who passed away last month at the age of 76) was a trans activist decades before it was in vogue. Allen served as “Mama Gloria” to her Chicago community, first as a licensed practical nurse, a nurses aide in private homes, and as a trans activist. Mama Gloria gained national presence in the documentary feature Mama Gloria which showcased (per NBC News) “the intersection of race- and gender-based oppression, and it showed how trans people can thrive when they are loved and supported by their families”
The woman that was called “The Emily Post of of Halsted Street” by The Chicago Tribune opened her own charm school out of the Center on Halsted, a community center for LGBTQ people in the Lakeview area of Chicago. While the charm school opened in 2012 and ran for less than ten years, Mama Gloria’s school was free of charge, with those who attended usually being younger trans people in their teens of early twenties. Mama Gloria focused on everything from table manners, job interview tips and skills, and hints on basics like hygiene and dressing. The school even inspired the 2015 play Charm, written by Phillip Dawkins, in addition to the documentary Mama Gloria.
In 2014, Mama Gloria began receiving her much-deserved accolades, thanks to some of her fellow trans trailblazers. Per The New York Times, The Trans 100 Awards showed fellow trans activists and icons Janet Mock & Precious Brady-Davis awarding Mama Gloria the Living Legend Award, and Mama Gloria received the Carmen Vázquez Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues from SAGE, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ elders.
Mama Gloria was even referenced by President Joe Biden in his remarks during a Pride Month reception, where only two days after her death, Biden referenced Mama Gloria saying “We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation. But when I look around this room here — and all of you here today, it’s a battle I know we will win. We will win. And we will do so on the shoulders of so many people who are no longer with us, but who paved the way for us. People like Gloria Allen, known as “Mama Gloria,” who transitioned in the 1950s and who passed away just two days ago”.
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