Model of transgender in Liverpool

Photo from 1970. April Ashley became a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List Credit: PA Wire

A project is being launched in Liverpool today to research, explore and document the experiences of transgendered people in Britain over the past 70 years. It focusses on the incredible life of model, actress and transsexual April Ashley from the city.

April was born George Jamieson born in Pitt Street, Liverpool in 1935. She was the first British person to be outed as a transsexual. April joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 14 but was given a dishonourable discharge after trying to commit suicide and was sent to a mental institution in Ormskirk for electric shock treatment. In 1960 at the age of 25 April had life threatening but successful gender reassignment surgery. After recovering she became a Vogue model a cabaret performer for Dali, friend to Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif and married to a future peer of the realm. (It was April's notorious divorce in 1970 (Corbett Vs Corbett) that made it illegal for transgendered people to officially adopt their chosen gender until the Gender Recognition Act 2004.)

The project will run workshops and opportunities for members of the transgender community to share their own experiences. It's hoped enough information will be collected over the next 12 months to run an exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool, April will also donate her personal documents charting her struggle for the life she wanted.

The project is being run by 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 was delighted when Homotopia approached her and 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."

The project runs from July 2012 to December 2014 and will engage with an estimated 500,000 people. The April Ashley exhibition will open in October 2013.