Farewell Carmen Rupe
LGBT community icon Carmen Rupe has died aged 75 in Sydney this morning, surrounded by friends and loved ones who had been keeping a bedside vigil for days.
Born in 1935 as Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui, New Zealand into a family of 13, the colourful one-time nightclub owner and madam succumbed to kidney failure at St Vincent’s Hospital after months of poor health following a fall and hip surgery earlier this year, GayNZ.com reports.
New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer, the world's first transsexual Member of Parliament, fought to contain tears this morning after hearing of her long time friend’s passing.
“I looked up to her,” Beyer told GayNZ.com.
“I have such huge respect for her. She provided us with visibility. She was so warm, so affectionate, with a great sense of maoritanga.”
Carmen arrived in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 1958 following a stint in the New Zealand Army at a time when Abe Saffron was making his name as the city’s king of vice.
It was during this period that she took on the name Carmen from Dorothy Dandridge's character in the movie Carmen Jones and began her drag career as a female impersonator doing belly dancing as well as dancing with snakes.
Carmen would also later work with Carlotta’s world famous Les Girls troupe as well as become a regular performer at Sydney’s first gay bar, the Purple Onion.
She returned to her New Zealand homeland in the 1960s where she transformed herself into one of Wellington’s most famous bar owners with the establishment of Carmen's International Coffee Lounge.
The venue not only provided a much needed meeting place for the local LGBT community but also seconded as a place where relations could be bedded upstairs.
Although homosexuality was illegal in New Zealand at the time, patrons would arrange coffee cups in particular ways to suggest whether they were after a heterosexual, gay, transgender, or drag queen encounter, Stuff.co.nz reports.
Carmen would later set up the Balcony strip club before running for mayor in 1977 on the platform of decriminalising homosexuality, legalising abortion and prostitution, and introducing sex education classes for teenagers; all of which have since been adopted into New Zealand law.
Carmen came back to Sydney in 1979, eventually becoming one of the city’s greatly loved and adored senior citizens, with Kings Cross and Darlinghurst locals not surprised to see her glamourously buzzing by on her bright red scooter in later years, or as part of Sydney's gay and lesbian Mardi Gras celebrations.
Close friend Jurgen Hoosma told GayNZ.com that the much loved entrepreneur and activist was still active and alert until her final hours.
“Even as recently as Monday night she was lucid and coherent and had a strong will to live," Hoosma said.
“She had put on some weight but overall her health has been in a downward spiral throughout the year.”
GayNZ.com reports that Carmen will be buried at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.
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