As a 24-year-old transgender woman, Kelly Glanney was metaphorically “five minutes in a frock” when she escaped from darkly intolerant Perth to the Emerald City of Sydney in the late 1980s.
Glanney was still dealing with the maelstrom of transitioning and hormone treatment when she met Kiwi legend, the late Carmen Rupe. In those early years, Carmen was an inspiration and mentor for her.
“In those first couple of years I made and lost four close friends,” says Glanney. “The transgender community has a high rate of attrition – HIV, suicide, drug problems – and Carmen helped me through that. Meeting her, someone with such dignity and gravitas… as she started telling me about the 1950s and ’60s, it actually really inspired me.”
They became neighbours and good friends and since Carmen’s death, Glanney has been the driving force behind a team of people involved in carrying out one of Carmen’s dying wishes – to set up a charitable trust in her name that, among other things, aims to protect and extend the rights of transgender people, and educate the public about the adverse affects of transphobia.
Although Glanney is not a trustee of what will be named the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust, she has become the focus of an online attack campaign that centred around Carmen’s Facebook page. Glanney was the subject of a number of allegations – potentially defamatory – about her personal character, all of which she has refuted.
The level of vitriol reached such a level that Facebook last week shut down the page at the request of Carmen’s family, a move that elicited further protest as Carmen’s profile had been a hub of memorabilia that is thought to have been lost in the deletion.
As a key member of an advisory group that will make recommendations to the trust’s board and “do the legwork” to get projects off the ground, Glanney assures that there are a number of legacy activities already in the making.
“There will be a website. We have been collecting a large quantity of pictures and press clippings that people have donated or emailed to us. We have a feature-length documentary in the making, and there’s all kinds of footage that will be part of a web archive of people telling stories about Carmen.
“Because all of the profits from the documentary are going into the trust, we’ve already got broadcast rights for a whole range of content.”
Glanney wants the trust to be about more than Carmen’s memory. She wants to empower others in her community to be part of Carmen’s legacy of charitable work. All of the people involved with the trust, including a prominent Sydney law farm, are working without financial compensation or fringe benefits.
“One of the things Carmen and I really connected on is how empowering it is to be involved in charitable work. To get a sense of your own self-worth by doing things for others. Carmen was involved with many organisations, from the Wayside Chapel, fundraisers for ACON, Telethon back in New Zealand…
“What we’re setting up is a service organisation specifically for transgender people and their friends, similar to Rotary, but with a more strategic focus. We want to create a positive message about transgender people and their friends coming together to do these things in Carmen’s name, and in so doing perpetuate her legacy and focus on the things she cared about.”
During a series of public consultations earlier this year, advertised widely in gay media and through support groups such as The Gender Centre in Sydney, Glanney realised just how many different communities felt they had a stake in Carmen’s legacy – and navigating that has been a difficult task.
“I had showgirls claiming Carmen as their own; I had transsexuals saying she’s a transsexual and that cross-dressers shouldn’t be a part of this. I had some Maori saying she’s more important than the Maori queen.”
In order for the trust to ultimately achieve its aims and meet Australia’s stringent rules around charitable trusts, Glanney says that the level of corporate governance has to be set high.
Having said that, she acknowledges the fractured relationships and bad press in New Zealand’s gay media caused by the Facebook fallout in recent months and hopes these will be repaired over time.
“Obviously some people will remain opposed to what we’re doing, but ultimately the trust is not just about a group of people who perceive themselves as Carmen’s best friends in the last years of her life. And I know that out there in the mainstream there is massive goodwill.”
| Chris Banks
| NB: Thanks to the reader who alerted us to the details of who took the above photo of Carmen. Photo by Fiona Clark from her photo essay book Go Girl.