Transgender icon ‘Mama Gloria’ Allen Chicago transgender icon and activist Gloria Allen, who founded and ran a charm school for homeless trans youth and was the subject of the award-winning documentary Mama Gloria and the critically acclaimed play Charm, has died at the age of 76.
Allen was born in Bowling Green, Ken., on Oct. 6, 1945. She grew up in Chicago amid the legendary drag balls on the city’s South Side and transitioned before Stonewall with the love and support of her mother Alma, a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother Mildred, a seamstress for crossdressers and strippers.
Allen overcame traumatic violence in high school to become an out and proud leader in her community. She earned a LPN and worked at the University of Chicago Hospital and in private homes as a nurse’s aide.
In her later years, she pioneered a charm school for young transgender people at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup and manners that she received from her mother and grandmother.