Abuse, prison, drugs and heartbreak all form Ellie Lowther’s path to her ‘true self’.

Steve Billon’s childhood dreams always cast him as the leading lady in a Wild West film.

It would take 40 years to confront confusion and become Ellie Lowther, a Teesside nana finally happy in life.

“I knew I wasn’t right,” Ellie said. “But I didn’t have the insight to actually understand what it was.

“As far as I was concerned people like me didn’t exist back then, so I just tried to fit in.

“You end up with little ambition and led down dysfunctional paths.” The 52-year-old’s journey from man to woman put everything at risk.

Abducted by a serial killer, beaten up on the streets of Middlesbrough and disowned by her family, she managed to overcome adversity and finally find her true self.

Ellie’s school years were difficult. She felt different, but didn’t know why.

“I didn’t do what little boys did,” she said. “Getting changed in a room full of boys was the most horrible, unnatural thing – and I didn’t even know why.

“I struggled with school work. I was worrying about puberty. If you’re trans it’s a very dramatic time.”

At 15, she ran away from home after an argument with her parents.

With a stash of Bowie albums and £20 in her pocket, she finished her milk round and got in a lorry.

The adventure would bring Ellie, then a schoolboy, into the clasp of delivery driver – a man she would identify decades later as Robert Black, a Scottish serial killer convicted of murdering four girls.

“He raped me,” said Ellie, who has waived her right to anonymity as the victim of a sex crime. “I didn’t have any words to say. I thought I was going to die. I just froze.”

Ellie managed to slip out of the van and make it back to Teesside – but the incident cast a shadow that still haunts her today.

“I will always be a survivor, but my trans identity has nothing to do with being a survivor. They are two totally different things,” she said.

“I didn’t have the words to say what I had been through. I was just a 15-year-old scared of puberty.”

Alone with no one to talk to, Ellie went down the wrong path.

She got in with the “wrong crowd”, started smoking cannabis to mask her insecurities and performed petty thefts that landed her in Medomsley Detention Centre.

“I thought I would be leaving there in a box,” said Ellie. “When you’re in there, there’s no one on your side.”

On the outside, her identity struggle persisted: “My subconscious life was female. When I woke up I would think ‘wow, I’m still male’.

“When you have to wear a mask, you’re not actually your own true self.”

Ellie only came to terms with her gender identity after banging her head in Ingleby Barwick while working as a postman in 1998.

Determined to get answers and break out of denial, she underwent therapy through the NHS.

It allowed her to discover “a truth deep within” that would change her life beyond recognition.

Steve became Steph in 2011 and began physical transition in 2012. She would later change her name again to Ellie.

“I was always female. I saw the world through female eyes,” she said. “But I wasn’t trans. Why would anyone be?

“But now I realise the person I am today is the person I have always been. I now understand the value of being my true self.”

Sticking out “like a sore thumb”, Ellie suffered unprovoked physical and sexual abuse on the streets of her hometown.

She was also “disowned by all and sundry” including her dad, brother and sister.

But while others struggled to accept her, Ellie had accepted herself and became finally happy in life.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m very happy in life now. The work that I do is very, very fulfilling.

“My private life is very, very happy. I’m surrounded by brilliant friends. My friends are my family.

“It took me 44 years to realise who I was so if it takes my family a few more years, that’s OK.

“I always leave the door open for reconciliation.”

Her children – three sons and a daughter – have mixed views on their dad’s change, but her four-year-old granddaughter has only ever known her as Nana Ellie.

And although not in a relationship at the moment, ex partners from her life as Steve are now Ellie’s “girlfriends”.

“I’m now exclusively attracted to men. Some trans people’s sexuality totally flips. Some it doesn’t.

“There’s no one size fits all. I class myself as a heterosexual woman.”

Ellie draws strength from a divine source: “I’m a Christian. I always believed I should have been a priest.

“God loves trans people. Jesus knows my struggles before I knew them. Bigoted Christians shouldn’t be criticising anyone.”

Inspired by God, she is focusing on making a positive change in the world by sharing her struggles and acting as a trans role model.

She established Trans Aware in 2017, hosts her own radio show on local station CVFM and has just been shortlisted for a National Diversity Award.

“There’s a lot of hatred out there,” she said. “If we can’t tackle it, where is it going to stop?”

According to equality charity Stonewall, a quarter of trans young people attempt suicide, 40% have been attacked or threatened with violence and two thirds have faced discrimination.

“I realise the general public may have a problem getting their head round it,” continued Ellie.

“But I’m not asking people to understand me. I’m asking them to accept me as myself. When we accept people, the whole world works better.

“I may have an extreme history but every trans person has a struggle. They all had a time in their life when they didn’t fit in.

“When we allow people to be their true authentic selves the world benefits.”

Written by Keane Duncan, as featured on Teeside Live – https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/abducted-imprisoned-disowned-now-transgender-16591970?ref=BNTMedia&utm_medium=facebook

Nicholas Nikiforou, a 12 year old activist has been nominated for the ‘Positive Role Model’ award in the UK’s National Diversity Awards 2019.

Nik was born with a pre-cancerous large congenital melanocytic nevus that covered two-thirds of his face.

After it was removed, it left him with scarring on his face. He is considered ‘disfigured’ under the ‘Disabilities Act’.

This is a term that he disagrees with and is fighting for facial equality. As part of his campaigning, Nicholas prints his own art pieces onto thousands of cards and physically hands them out to the public to advocate for kindness, diversity and equality. He also talks in the media about facial equality and runs a YouTube channel.

“I have been severely bullied all because of the way I look. It took a long time for me to realise the good impact I could have on the world, I believed people when they told me that I was worthless, when they told me I wouldn’t be anything because of the way I looked. But throughout the years, I have learnt that what we look like doesn’t define us,” Nik says.

In 2016, he became “The Face of Kinder” and appeared on the wrap of the famous chocolates.

“When newspapers in the UK were writing about me, I had a lot of support but then I noticed some newspapers saying ‘Birthmark boy becomes Face of Kinder’. I sat in my room repeating ‘birthmark boy’. Just in shock. Is that really what I was seen as by some? A birthmark boy? Rather than someone who has made history, I was seen as a ‘birthmark boy’.

He says that this inspired him to fight for change. “This started me on my journey which is why I am privileged to be able to reach individuals through my art, singing, and speeches. My vision is to encourage individuals to embrace what they do have and what they can be, rather than focus on what they do not have or may think they cannot be.”

Nik is a Diana Award winner and anti-bullying ambassador, as well as a British Citizen Youth Award medalist. In 2017 he was voted as one of the “24 most Influential Bristolians Under 24.”

Source – Written by Stelios Marathovouniotis as featured on in-cyprus.com – https://in-cyprus.com/uk-cypriot-antibullying-ambassador-nominated-for-positive-role-model-award-video/

Gill Springgay has been nominated in the Positive Role Model category at the National Diversity Awards 2019 for her work in styling and providing makeup for transgender women.

Helping transgender women with their transition was not something Gill Springgay had initially intended to do when she launched her image consultancy service.

But when a male friend unexpectedly asked her to do his makeup, she realised there was no image consultancy service for a person who was transgender. She changed her client focus and launched Makeover Girl Reinvent Yourself, working with males who are transitioning or have already transitioned.

Now, following 10 years of helping male clients make the first steps towards transitioning into a female, she has been nominated in the Positive Role Model category at the National Diversity Awards 2019.

Gill, who works from her studio at her Eccleston home, says: “I used to be a housing officer for Chorley Council and I got made redundant. I always had a vision to set up a makeover and image consultancy business as I have always been interested in hair and makeup ever since I was a little girl.

“I studied at night school and set up a website.“A male friend came to me and asked if I could do his makeup and make him look female. He came to my home and we had a talk about how he would looking terms of clothes, hair and makeup and. I was completely amazed at how feminine I could make him look. He was happy and I thought I had a talent for it. I saw the possibility of what I could do.”

Gill began seeking out transgender support groups and visited the Manchester Concord social group, offering demonstrations every month. She adds: “I have never had any female clients. I decided to focus on transgender women. There are a lot of people who need my help and I have lots of clients in transition.”

Gill’s work reaches beyond teaching about hair and makeup, as she helps her clients become more confident in their new look and accept who they are. She adds: “I go out shopping with my clients and quite often it is their first step out. “I give them the ability to see themselves as females, rather than a man in drag. They never thought they could look feminine until I teach them how. “I give my clients makeup tutorials and look at their body shape so I can tell them what clothes suit them. I do a colour analysis and as I stock wigs to suit their face shape and skin tone.”

Gill develops strong friendships with her clients and supports them through their transitional journey.She adds: “I am not a trained counsellor but I can support my clients as I listen to them and help them feel relaxed. In some cases, I am the first person they have told about transitioning.
“I have a few links with gender clinics and counsellors where I can signpost people to.

“Not everyone is in transition. Quite a lot of clients seem to be the same age – in their 40s, 50s and 60s – who are married and have had children. “They have struggled to keep their identity in and are scared to make the first step. “It is hard enough dealing with their image as they thought they were male and they are now presenting themselves as female. Even though the concept is more accepted in society, it is still terrifying for the person. But when they are fully dressed they feel more relaxed as their brain is telling them they are a woman.”

Gill has more than 100 clients from all over the UK and has people coming from as far as London, Ireland and Scotland. She has also written various magazine articles on the subject and was poised to take part in a Channel Four documentary until her client no longer wished to take part.

Gill, who has two daughters aged 14 and 12, says: “I was the first image consultant exclusively for transgender women and I offer a specialist service so I have clients from quite far. I have links to a local B&B so people can stay overnight. I had Channel Four filming in my home as part of The Making Of Me. I was supposed to be on episode four but my client pulled out so we didn’t get aired.

“I have been lucky enough to have been invited several times to judge Miss Transliving in Eastbourne and Miss Rose Pageant in Scarborough, donating prizes and offering my sponsorship. I also attended the Beaumont Society Harrogate events for several years offering my services and sponsorship. I also voluntarily wrote regular fashion and beauty articles for their magazine. My service has grown and grown, so much so I have been mentored by Virgin, who is helping me upgrade my website and promote my business. I have been asked to represent them via their Virgin.com website, as they are big advocates of diversity.”

Part of Gill’s aim is to educate people about transgender and make the notion more accepted.
She adds: “My aim is to break down barriers and show it is normal. People who are transgender are no different to anybody else.”

Gill now needs your votes to be shortlisted for the next stage of the National Diversity Awards 2019, which take place at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on September 20.
To vote, visit www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/nominate. Voting closes May 31 and the shortlisted nominees will be announced soon after that.

Source – Written by Natalie Walker as featured in The Lancashire Post  – https://www.lep.co.uk/news/people/how-eccleston-mum-has-been-helping-to-style-and-inspire-transgender-women-through-her-makeover-girl-reinvent-yourself-image-consultancy-1-9786731


THREE influential role models have been nominated for a prestigious national award.

A police sergeant, an MP’s inspirational caseworker and a Whitefield mum who was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 12 have all been nominated in the UK’ largest Diversity Awards.

Sgt Abed Hussain, who has served with Greater Manchester Police for 24 years, and Ummrana Farooq, a caseworker for MP James Frith, have been nominated for being positive role models for race, religion and faith.

Mum-of-six Emma Murphy, from Whitefield, has been nominated as a positive role model in the disability category. Based on her own experiences, Emma has been campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of taking Epilim — one of the registered trade names of the anti-epilepsy drug sodium valporate.

Mrs Farooq, aged 43, said: “I am keen to leave a lasting legacy in the Bury community and I aspire to be a great role model to my own children and to wider society.”

The mum-of-five said “her life changed completely” after she began working as a caseworker for James Frith, MP for Bury North, handling asylum and immigration enquiries for constituents.

She had previously worked at Bury Carer’s Centre, organising various multicultural events, with a focus on promoting equality and diversity.

As her influence expanded, Mrs Farooq has also been appointed fundraiser for Muslim Hands charity, parent governor at The Derby High School and St Thomas’s Primary School, as well as the chief BAME co-ordinator for the Bury North Labour Party.

Mrs Farooq added: “I have been asked how I manage being a British Pakistani Muslim wife, mother, friend, work colleague and community volunteer. To give inspiration to other women, especially the ethnic minority, I recently started a blog of my inspirational journey, hoping to reach out to the women worldwide.”

Meanwhile, Sgt Hussain is recognised for his work to build relationships between members of the police force, faith leaders and young people.

He created Bury’s LGBT Rainbow Walks and first ever Pride march. He also set up the Bury Muslim Forum, which has helped to increase the understanding and reporting of domestic abuse and other issues, and planning the multi-faith Collabor8e event.

In December 2018, he received a Queen’s Police Medal (QPM) in recognition of his contributions to policing.

This year’s Diversity Awards, which recognise role models of diversity within various fields, will take place at Liverpool Cathedral on September 20.

Source – Written by a Bury Times Reporter as featured in The Bury Times – https://www.burytimes.co.uk/news/17643626.influential-role-models-from-bury-nominated-for-diversity-award/




Shaun is an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in education and communities. In 2009, in direct response to homophobia in his school, Shaun publicly ‘came out’ to pupils, staff and parents, devising ‘Inclusion For All’ to train educators nationally on positive LGBT+ inclusion. A homophobia survivor, Shaun recounts his inspiring journey to thousands of young people, pioneering LGBT+ inclusion in primary and faith schools, setting an example that others would follow. This incredible role model has trained well over 25,000 U.K. education professionals and featured in national press and on television. Shaun supports many national LGBT and anti-bullying organizations, teacher unions and Amnesty and has advised at government level. Increasingly working overseas, Shaun is currently supporting the entire Isle of Man education system to become LGBT+ inclusive. Shaun’s first book ‘Celebrating Difference’ published by Bloomsbury Education in June 2019.




Born in a village in India, Barnali witnessed floods and earthquakes which devastated her local community. This sparked her lifelong passion working to combat the effects of natural disasters through scientific solutions. She is a recognized seismic expert working as a Technical Director at Mott MacDonald. She appeared on BBC2 documentary ‘The Imagineers’, highlighting the work of engineers and their solutions to major global hazards. She participated in EEFIT field mission to Nepal following the earthquake and has worked to foster an effective partnership between private companies and Aid organisations. She was recently selected by Financial Times and EM power Empower Future Leaders as top 30 future leaders in the BAME community. This recognition is inspirational as it highlights the support that she can provide for other young women in engineering in a powerful way, challenging the status quo!




Fr Andrew was until recently Vicar of two parishes in London. He was the first working Vicar to marry a same sex partner in June 2014 and has faced strong opposition and considerable hostility from those opposed to LGBTQIA people’s rights within the Church of England. He is an outspoken critic of the leadership of the Church of England for its institutional homophobia and its discriminatory policies against its own LGBTIQIA clergy and members. As a member of General Synod, the parliament of the Church, he has contributed to the ongoing debate on human sexuality within the Church and helped produce a manifesto for change in the Church to promote equality and diversity in the Church of England. He continues to provide pastoral support and encouragement to many LGBTIQIA Christians in the struggle for greater acceptance and inclusion.




Jaspreet Kaur, better known as Behind the Netra for her poetry is a spoken word artist from East London. By day, she is a History teacher at a secondary school in central London, with an academic background in both History and Gender Studies. Her work aims to tackle issues related to gender discrimination, mental health stigma, decolonisation and more. The end of 2016 brought Behind the Netra the title of one of the Top 10 Most Inspirational Sikh Women in the UK. It’s been an incredible year for Behind the Netra, being in the national #thriveon advert with Idris Elba, working with the UN on the HeforShe campaign, presenting her first TED talk and recently won the Asian Women of the Year award and won a Rising Star Award for her inspiring work in education and teaching.




On 14th October 2013, 19 year old Jemma began to feel unwell. Over the next few days her symptoms worsened suffering from severe pain, headaches and constant nausea. Jemma was rushed to A&E and a CT scan revealed severe swelling in the outer lining of her brain, leading to emergency brain surgery. They found Jemma had meningitis strain Y and encephalitis. She woke up three weeks later and spent three and a half months in intensive care, followed by eight months at a neuro rehab unit. Returning home almost one year later, Jemma’s life has been turned upside down. She is tirelessly dedicating her time to raising awareness, sharing her story with various media outlets and campaigning as a Young Ambassador for Meningitis Now. Last year Jemma delivered a speech at the Houses of Parliament highlighting the importance of educating students, universities and health care professionals about the vaccine.




Dr. Baptiste has always been passionate about medicine; from a young age she aspired to become a doctor. After qualifying in 2013 she began working as a medical doctor in London. Currently Patrice is training to become a General Practitioner (GP). Dr. Baptiste is also a freelance writer and has written for the British Medical Association (BMA), the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Medical Protection Society (MPS), to name but a few. Patrice works closely with students who wish to enter top universities such as University College London (UCL) and study highly competitive courses like Medicine. During 2016 she launched DreamSmartTutors, an organization that aims to help prospective medical students; especially (but not exclusively) students from less privileged and BME backgrounds. As a STEMNET ambassador, Patrice aims to encourage students to pursue STEM subjects.


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