Liverpool

April Ashley: MBE for transgender campaigner

April Ashley holds her MBE medal
Image caption April Ashley was born George Jamieson in Liverpool in 1935

One of the first Britons to undergo sex-change surgery has received an MBE for services to transgender equality.

Liverpool-born actress and campaigner April Ashley was honoured during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Born George Jamieson in Liverpool in 1935, she underwent gender reassignment surgery in Morocco in 1960 and went on to have a successful modelling career.

Ms Ashley said she did not think she "was doing anything special, so to be suddenly awarded this is astonishing".

Image caption Prince Charles presented Ms Ashley with her medal

Bella Jay, director of transgender charity Sparkle, said Ms Ashley had "played an important role in bringing issues into the public eye and campaigning for equal rights".

Ms Ashley's divorce in 1970 from Arthur Corbett made the headlines when the judge ruled that despite her surgery she remained a biological man and therefore the marriage was invalid and annulled.

The ruling ended the hopes of any transsexuals marrying until 2004 when the Gender Recognition Act allowed people to legally change gender.

Ms Ashley had joined the Navy at 14 but felt isolated and attempted suicide. She moved to Paris in the 1950s and started dressing as a woman, before finding success as a performer at Le Carrousel nightclub.

She underwent experimental gender reassignment surgery in 1960 in Casablanca, despite being told by the doctor there was only a 50/50 chance of survival.

After returning to England and becoming a model, she was outed as a transsexual by the Sunday People in 1961, which she said had left her "humiliated in front of the world".

'Astonishing'

Ms Ashley was made an MBE in this summer's Queen's Birthday Honours list for her work.

She said that for over half a century she had "been writing to people and helping people and I've written thousands and thousands of letters".

"Strangely enough although it was transgender, it was also gay and lesbian [people writing to me] and women desperate for divorces," she said.

Image caption Ms Ashley underwent experimental gender reassignment surgery in 1960

"To me it was just a normal thing to do - I never thought I was doing anything special quite frankly, so to be suddenly awarded this is astonishing."

Ms Jay, who organises the annual Sparkle event in Manchester, said the former model had "faced many struggles in life, which perhaps people don't really understand in the more tolerant and open society in which we live today".

"Achieving real transgender equality is a big issue for many people in modern Britain, but all too often it either fails to gain any real publicity or is misunderstood," she said.

"I congratulate April on the award which recognizes her achievements and again helps bring the issues facing the trans-community into the public eye."

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