‘Mama Gloria,’ a trans activist who created charm school for gay and transgender youth, has died

Gloria Allen, who devoted her life to Chicago’s transgender community, was 76.

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Transgender icon and activist Gloria Allen has died at the age of 76.

Known as “Mama Gloria,” Allen reportedly passed away peacefully in her sleep at the LGBTQ-friendly Town Hall Apartments for seniors in Chicago, according to the Dallas Voice. Luchina Fisher, who directed a 2020 documentary about Allen, confirmed her passing in a statement. 

“It’s only fitting that Mama Gloria Allen’s last day on Earth would be during Pride Month,” Fisher, director of “Mama Gloria,” told People. “She lived as an unapologetically proud Black transgender woman before Stonewall and before the word transgender even existed. And 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.”

Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky and raised in Chicago, Allen transitioned in the 1950s during a time when there were zero LGBTQ community centers or resources for queer people, NBC News reports. She devoted her life to Chicago’s transgender community and founded a charm school for homeless trans youth at the Center on Halsted

“I didn’t have all the tools that they have out today for the younger people. So I had to do my thing, and I did it. I walked with my head up high due to my family,” Allen said in a previous interview with NBC News, crediting her mother Alma and grandmother Mildred for her coming out. “I didn’t know anything about lesbians and gays, because we didn’t have any rights back then.”

Allen’s mother was a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold and her grandmother worked as a seamstress for cross-dressers and strippers, according to the report. Allen used the lessons on love, makeup and manners that she learned from them to educate trans youth about etiquette at her charm school. Her efforts earned her the Living Legend Award by Janet Mock and Precious Brady-Davis at the 2014 Trans 100 Awards. In 2021, she received SAGE’s Advocacy Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change Conference.

Pride Flags decorate Christopher Park on June 22, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images,)

After navigating through traumatic violence in high school, Allen went on to become a licensed practical nurse. She worked at the University of Chicago Hospital and as a nurse’s aide in private homes. Not only was Allen the centerpiece of Fisher’s award-winning documentary, her activism and charm school served as inspiration for the critically acclaimed play, “Charm.”

“Being able to share her story with the world was the gift of a lifetime. It brought me such joy to see her get her flowers, to know that she mattered to the world and that her voice will live on through our film “Mama Gloria,” said Fisher. “She touched so many people around the world and she died being honored and celebrated the way a legend should be.”

Allen was recognized for her life and activism in several news publications and outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, People magazine, the 19th News, the BBC and NowThisNews. 

“I hit walls that were up against me, but I pressed through the walls and made myself known to everybody because I’m not ashamed, and I want people to know that,” she told the 19th News.

Allen’s body was reportedly discovered Monday morning in her senior residence apartment. She is survived by several siblings and numerous nieces and nephews.

“Our beloved Mama G has passed on,” read a post shared Monday on the Instagram account for the “Mama Gloria” documentary. “We will miss you eternally, Gloria.”

“There are so many lessons to be found in your time on this Earth,” the post continued. “Through your story, we have found new meaning in the word love. Rest peacefully in love and light, sweet Gloria. You are forever in the hearts of many. ❤️” 

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