Carmen Rupe (1936-2011), a New Zealand transgendered entrepreneur, entertainer, and role model, passed away in Sydney this morning.
Carmen was a pioneer of greater sexual tolerance, who came to prominence through the entertainment and nightlife options she provided for Wellingtonians during the 1970s.
Taumaranui-born, as Trevor, Carmen graced Auckland, Wellington, and Sydney with her fearlessness, style, and entrepreneurial spirit. During her working life, she entertained audiences in these cities as an exotic dancer and stripper, as celebrated in the painting below.
Carmen’s memorable entertainment enterprises in Wellington included her International Coffee Lounge (pictured below) and nightclub, The Balcony.
Carmen’s 1977 bid for the city’s mayoralty received much attention. Some people say that her campaign broke barriers that later enabled a more diverse political arena.
I met Carmen in Sydney in 2006 when she offered Te Papa a collection paintings and photographs related to her life. We gladly accepted her offer of 18 items as a way to mark a key personality from a period when attitudes towards homosexuality, prostitution, and alcohol licensing were not as liberal as they are today.
After that, Carmen and I kept in touch, and always exchanged Christmas cards. She sent these in envelopes that were often plastered with personalised postage stamps, featuring her portrait and sometimes her star sign Libra (see below).
While Carmen lived in Sydney for many years, she continued to visit New Zealand regularly. No doubt she appreciated changes such as the legalisation of homosexuality and prostitution, and the relaxation of drinking laws that she advocated over thirty years ago.
Read more about Carmen on the Slice of Heaven minisite.
Carmen will be sadly missed. If you have any memories of her, and her influence on life in Wellington, please feel free to add them to this blog.