Transgender Awareness Week, starts on 14 November leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November, when transgender advocates raise awareness of the transgender community through education and advocacy activities. With this in mind we have chosen April Ashley as our Inspirational Diversity Champion of the Month.
April is a model and restaurant hostess and one of the first British people to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
April was born George Jamieson and joined the Merchant Navy in 1951. Following two suicide attempts which resulted in being discharged from the Merchant Navy and being sent to a mental institution, April moved to London from Liverpool. Having started cross-dressing, she moved to Paris in the late 1950s, began using the name Toni April and joined the famous French entertainer Coccinelle in the cast of the drag cabaret at the Carousel Theatre.
In May 1960 April had pioneering seven-hour-long sex reassignment surgery. Following which all her hair fell out and she endured significant pain, but the operation was successful.
After her surgery April became a sought-after model who was photographed by David Bailey and featured in the pages of Vogue magazine. But the joy at her successful transition was not to last. Later in 1961 she was betrayed by a friend who sold her story to the Sunday People for £5. She never worked as model again in Britain and she would continue to suffer prejudice and discrimination in the decades that followed.
In 2005, after the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, April was finally legally recognised as a female and issued with a new birth certificate.
In December 2012 April was recognised for her tireless work on behalf of the transgender community, being awarded an MBE for her services to transgender equality. She was also awarded a Lifetime Achievement honour at the European Diversity Awards 2014
A major exhibition ‘April Ashley: portrait of a lady’ was held at the Museum of Liverpool from 27 September 2013 to 1 March 2015. There is also a film being produced about April’s life.
To find out more about April and her work see her website at http://www.april-ashley.com/