RIP Lady April Ashley

The date – April 11, 1988.  The place – the 60th Academy Awards.  My first time at the Oscars.  During an interval, I saw an elegant woman who was clearly “somebody”.  I approached and told her she looked like a cross between Maria Callas and Vivien Leigh.  She had a throaty laugh and said, “Darling, I hope you’re referring to when they were still alive!”  Her name was Lady April Ashley.  The next day, Jackie Collins filled me in on April’s colorful past.  She was born George Jamieson and was the second (known) Briton to undergo male-to-female gender reassignment surgery – in Casablanca (where Two People was shot).  After becoming a high-profile fashion model, she married Lord Arthur Corbett – who she swore knew all about her past.  However, his family pressured Artie to have the union annulled and leave April penniless.  Disillusioned by England, she went to America.

After our brief Oscars encounter, I was shocked to see her turn up on The People’s Court – where she was sued for keeping gifts from rich men (like that’s a bad thing).  Judge Wapner not only sided with April, but also flirted with her.  I tracked her down in San Diego, where she was working for Greenpeace and living with two women… both named Anita!  Eventually, she went back to England and became an outspoken advocate for transgender rights.  After decades as an outsider, she was lauded as a trailblazer.  In 2005, she was legally recognized as female.  In 2012, she was honored with a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) – presented by Prince Charles – for her work for transgender equality.  In 2015, the National Museum in Liverpool assembled an enormous exhibition in her honor.  What meant the world to her was having young trans people thank her – she realized her struggle ensured their lives would be easier.  Lady April Ashley made a difference.  She passed away over the holidays at age 86.  Rest in peace, my dear, funny, fabulous friend.

 

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