Rest in Power, Mama Gloria
In June 2022, at the age of 76, Mama Gloria passed into the halls of history. She left behind a legacy that lives on through the lives of the many people she touched, the legacy of a life characterized by relentless activism and uncompromising compassion.
Coming out four years before the Stonewall uprising, Mama Gloria never imagined she would make it past 40, let alone 70. She was immersed in Chicago’s South Side drag ball culture in the 1960s and overcame traumatic violence. Her experience inspired her to become a proud leader, activist, and mentor in her community. Which is why, in her elder years, Mama Gloria founded and operated a charm school for homeless transgender youth at Chicago’s Center on Halsted, offering lessons on love, makeup, and manners that she received from her mother and grandmother. Luchina Fisher’s documentary “Mama Gloria” chronicles her life and highlights the influential relationships she had with her family, friends, and chosen children.
Here at SAGE, we were honored to work with Mama Gloria on many different projects over the years. Staff members were constantly struck by the warmth with which Gloria treated those around her, whether it was her first or her tenth time working with them.
SAGE had the pleasure of working with Mama Gloria on our “Be You” campaign for National Coming Out Day with GenderCool and Dell Technologies. The campaign, done virtually at the height of the covid-19 pandemic, connected LGBTQ+ elders and TGNBNC youth to have honest and candid conversations about the importance of living as your true self. When asked who her role model was, Mama Gloria responded that it was Wilbur ‘Hi-Fi’ White, “who was an entertainer in Chicago when I was a teenager… He was such an inspiration to me as someone who was part of the community, and who gave me and others the space to be who we are.”
SAGE honored mama Gloria with two awards in recognition of her tremendous leadership and advocacy, the Carmen Vázquez SAGE Award for Excellence in Leadership on Aging Issues at the 2021 National LGBTQ+ Task Force Creating Change Conference, and, posthumously, the Joyce Warshow Lifetime Achievement Award at our 26th Annual SAGE Awards and Gala. Luchina Fisher, documentary filmmaker and chosen family of Mama Gloria, accepted the award on Mama G.’s behalf.
SAGE CEO Michael Adams captured the way so many of us feel about Mama Gloria in his introductory remarks at Creating Change when he said, “Mama Gloria is a shining example of one of the countless inspiring, vibrant, and resilient LGBTQ+ pioneers who have been advocating since Stonewall – many who are trans people are color – and still passionately and doggedly pressing for change.”
Mama Gloria will be sorely missed, but she will never be forgotten. Here at SAGE, we are proud to follow in the footsteps of giants, and strive to emulate mama Gloria’s resiliency, compassion, and wisdom in the work we continue to do in support of TGNCNB, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ elders everywhere.