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British trans modelling pioneer April Ashley died at age 86

By AFP

29 Dec 2021

April Ashley, a British model and actress who was a pioneering figure in the fight for trans rights, has died at 86, local media reported Wednesday.

Ashley was one of the first British people known to have undergone gender reassignment surgery, although she only gained full legal recognition as a woman in the UK in 2005.

She was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II who awarded her an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 2012 for services to the transgender community and activist Peter Tatchell wrote that she was "the great trans trailblazer for decades".

Ashley was born George Jamieson in 1935 in the port city of Liverpool in northwestern England.

From an early age, she felt that her birth gender of male was wrong and she was severely bullied and beaten by her mother.

She briefly served in the Merchant Navy and had treatment at a psychiatric hospital.

She found greater acceptance when she moved to London and then Paris, where she began performing at the Caroussel de Paris, the city's first transgender revue.

She underwent sex-change surgery in Morocco in 1960 aged 25, taking the name April Ashley, reflecting the month of her birth.

The UK accepted her new identity and gave her papers allowing her to gain a passport and driving licence.

She became a successful model, photographed for Vogue and appeared in a film with US star Bob Hope called "Road to Hong Kong".

But her sex change later caused a public scandal after it was revealed in a tabloid.

She wed a British aristocrat, Arthur Corbett, in 1963 in Gibraltar, but their marriage swiftly broke up.

To avoid paying maintenance payments, Corbett applied to annul their marriage.

A court in 1970 famously ruled that the marriage was void because Ashley was male, even though Corbett knew her history.

This led to Ashley facing public attacks.

She spent a period running a London restaurant and moved to the US. She returned to the UK in 2005, after the passing of the Gender Recognition Act that allowed her to be fully recognised as a woman.

Her life was celebrated with a 2013 exhibition in her home city of Liverpool titled "April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady".

Her friends included the former Labour Party deputy leader John Prescott. Tributes came from friends including French transgender performer Marie-Pierre Pruvot, who wrote on Facebook of her death on Monday: "A little bit of me is going away."

"She had airs of a Queen and crazy humour, tremendous liveliness", Pruvot added.

British pop star Boy George posted on Twitter a photograph he had taken of Ashley, calling her "such an inspiration to my generation and beyond!"(AFP)