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A Trans Charm School Was Just One of Gloria Allen’s Accomplishments

Gloria Allen

This Chicago icon was recently recognized by President Biden.

Chicago icon and legend Gloria Allen, 76, who lived in an LGBTQ-friendly senior residence, died June 13 of respiratory failure.

An advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, Allen "transitioned before Stonewall and the word transgender even existed," says her friend Luchina Fisher, who is also the writer and director of Mama Gloria, a documentary about Allen.

Confident about her identity from early on, Allen says in the documentary, "When I came out of my mother's womb, I was out."

"The only time I entered a closet was to get me an outfit and a pair of pumps," she adds. Allen grew up in the Bronzeville section of Chicago and later became part of the South Side's legendary drag ball scene. She worked as a licensed practical nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center as well as a private nurse's aide.

The charm school Allen began at the Center on Halsted was run mostly out of her pocket; she gave lessons on table manners and etiquette, and she often made meals for her students. She became the "Emily Post of Halsted Street," Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones wrote in 2015 when he reviewed the premiere of Charm, a play about Allen.

Allen frequently spoke about the support she received from her family. "Her life is a testament to the love her mother, grandmother, and other families poured into her and the love that she shared with her chosen children and the world," Fisher says. "Her 76 years on this earth is proof that Black trans women can live long, meaningful, and joyous lives when they have the love and support of their families, as Gloria did."

In 2014, Allen received the Living Legend Award at the Trans 100 event, and even after she retired, she continued to speak about and advocate for the transgender community. At the 2021 Creating Change conference, she received the Carmen Vazquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues. And just two days after she died, President Biden lauded her before signing an executive order on LGBTQ+ rights.

"She touched so many people around the world," Fisher says. "And she died being honored and celebrated the way a legend should be."

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