Legendary Black trans activist ‘Mama’ Gloria Allen dies aged 76: ‘She got to experience it all’

Beloved trans icon and dedicated activist Gloria Allen, known as “Mama Gloria”, has died at the age of 76. 

Allen died Monday (13 June) in her apartment at an LGBTQ+ senior resident home in Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Luchina Fisher, director of a documentary about Allen’s life, told the Tribune that it’s believed Allen died in her sleep. 

Fischer described Allen as a “legend” in the LGBTQ+ community. She came out in the 60s, before the Stonewall riots and the “word transgender even existed”. 

“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 said. 

“I am so grateful that she allowed me to share her story with the world. She has touched so many lives. And she got to experience it all.”

Fisher told People Mama Gloria lived as an “unapologetically proud Black transgender woman” and that her life proved that “Black trans women can live long, meaningful and joyous lives when they have the love and support of their families, as Gloria did”.

“She touched so many people around the world, and she died being honoured and celebrated the way a legend should be,” Fisher added. 

Allen was born on 6 October, 1945, in Bowling Green, Kentucky but grew up in Chicago, where she would later become a local institution. 

She told People in 2021 that growing up as a trans girl was “rough in the 50s and 60s”.

‘But I was tough,” she added. “My mother and grandmother accepted me, but some of my siblings were ashamed of me.”

 

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Allen told NBC News that she didn’t have “all the tools that they have out today for the younger people”.

“So I had to do my own thing, and I did it,” she added.

“I walked with my head up high due to my family. I didn’t know anything about lesbians and gays, because we didn’t have any rights back then.”

She would go on to work as a certified licensed practice nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center and also worked as a private nurse’s aide. 

Throughout her life, Mama Gloria was passionate about mentoring and engaging with LGBTQ+ youth. 

She launched a charm school for young trans people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted. The school taught lessons on love, makeup, manners, etiquette and more which were passed down to Allen from her mother and grandmother. 

Allen told People that she wanted to teach the young queer kids who came through her doors to “be proud” and make sure they were looked after. 

“I cooked for them, listened to them and taught them etiquette,” she said. “I thought of them as my chosen children.”

Her school and life story served as inspiration for Philip Dawkins’ 2015 play Charm, which premiered in Chicago before running in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC. 

Allen’s story was also featured in Fisher’s documentary, Mama Gloria, which premiered in October 2020 at the Chicago International Film Festival. It won the jury award for best documentary at the Teaneck International Film Festival and best film at the Cineodyssey Film Festival.

Mama Gloria was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

In 2021, Allen received the Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at Creating Change for her strong leadership and trailblazing advocacy.  

Allen is survived by several siblings, a host of nieces and nephews and her “chosen family”.

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