Liverpool: Two-year project on life of April Ashley launched

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Arts festival Homotopia is preparing to launch a two year heritage project to research, explore and document the experiences of transgender people in Britain over the past 70 years, focussing on the life of trans model and actress April Ashley MBE.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, there will be a number of ‘reminiscence’ workshops and opportunities for members of the transgender community to share their own experiences.

One of the outcomes of the project activities will be a 12 month exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Liverpool.

The exhibition will use Ashley’s personal documents, photographs, letters, newspaper cuttings and television clips to chart her journey from George Jamieson, born in Pitt Street, Liverpool in 1935 through her early career at sea with John Prescott, to cabaret performer for Einstein and Dali, her life-threatening gender reassignment surgery in 1960, actress alongside Bob Hope, friend to Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, Vogue model and marriage to a future peer of the realm.

It was her divorce in 1970 (Corbett Vs Corbett) that made it illegal for transgender people to officially adopt their chosen gender until the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

At the launch event April Ashley and Gary Everett, Homotopia’s Director, will be joined by senior representatives from National Museums Liverpool, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council to outline the project activities and resulting exhibition scheduled to open in the autumn of 2013.

An audience of older, transgender and gay people with personal memories of the model has also been invited to participate in a Q & A session with her after the speeches.

Homotopia Director Gary Everett said: “This is a project of national significance charting the shifting social attitudes towards gender and sexuality using personal effects from April’s archive. Over half a million people will enjoy the final exhibition thanks to our collaboration with the Museum of Liverpool.

“We are looking to capture the memories of trans, lesbian, gay and heterosexual people who remember April and can tell us of their experiences and of the impact they perceive April to have had on the movement from marginalisation and prejudice towards equality.”

April Ashley said: “I am very flattered that there will be an exhibition about my life in the beautiful Museum of Liverpool. This is already a special year for me as I am to receive an MBE this autumn for my work campaigning for transgendered rights.”

Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said: “We, at the Heritage Lottery Fund, are delighted to support this project, which will help tell the story of the transgendered community over the last 70 years. Through understanding, valuing and sharing our diverse histories we can bring people together and provide the foundation for a confident, modern society.

“April Ashley has been an inspiration to so many people, and it is wonderful that in the same year she has been awarded an MBE we are able to celebrate her life and work.”

Jane Duffy, Acting Director of the Museum of Liverpool said the institution was “keen to collect more material that represents Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender histories so our partnership with Homotopia on this project is fantastic.”