Trans Icon Mama Gloria Dies at 76

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 16, 2022

This still from "Mama Gloria" shows Gloria Allen attending church services
This still from "Mama Gloria" shows Gloria Allen attending church services  (Source:Luchina Fisher)

Gloria Allen, better known as Mama Gloria has died at age 76.

NBC News reported that Gloria Allen was "a Black transgender icon and activist who dedicated her life to Chicago's trans community," and detailed that she was "believed to have died peacefully while asleep in her Chicago apartment at an LGBTQ senior residence home, according to a statement from Luchina Fisher." Fisher is the director of "Mama Gloria," the 2020 documentary named after the icon.

People Magazine noted that news of her death "was shared Monday on the Instagram account for Mama Gloria, an award-winning documentary about Allen's life."

"Through your story, we have found new meaning in the word love," the post said. "Rest peacefully in love and light, sweet Gloria. You are forever in the hearts of many."

Mama Gloria was an inspiration to generations of transgender people. NBC noted that she "transitioned in the 1950s, prior to the modern LGBTQ rights movement that began with the 1969 Stonewall riots and long before the term 'transgender' became mainstream."

In an interview with People Magazine, Allen recalled that being a transgender youth "was rough in the '50s and '60s, but I was tough."

"I didn't have all the tools that they have out today for the younger people," NBC News quoted Allen as saying. "So I had to do my thing, and I did it."

Saying she "walked with my head up high" thanks to her supportive family, Allen noted that she "didn't know anything about lesbians and gays, because we didn't have any rights back then."

But she helped ensure that subsequent generations could be better informed.

"More than a decade ago, as a trans elder, Allen started a charm school at Center on Halsted in Chicago to educate trans youth about etiquette and proper behavior," NBC said. "Her school inspired the 2015 play 'Charm,' written by Philip Dawkins, which ran in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C."

Fisher told People Mag that Allen "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."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.