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

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

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


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.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Craig Moody

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Craig is a community development worker specialising in MSM and LGBT people. His role focuses on specific needs of gay and bisexual men to reduce instances of STI infection and late diagnosis. Engagement and consultation within the LGBT+ community is at the forefront of Craig’s work to ensure services meet the needs of LGBT+ people. Craig is also Vice Chair of Hull and East Riding LGBT+ Forum, Trustee for Pride in Hull and works closely with Humberside police for their Diversity Panel. In addition, he offers 1-1 support for LGBT+ people and supports the Trans Peer Support Group at MESMAC. Craig has delivered training to over 150 people this year, focusing on the needs of LGBT+ people, issues they may face and the impact this can have on people’s physical and emotional wellbeing; combating stigma that the LGBT+ community face.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Wayne Dhesi

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Wayne founded RUComingOut (a registered charity since 2016) in 2012 and continues to run the project as well as working full time for Stonewall as their Youth Programmes Manager. RUComingOut has over 300 ‘coming out’ stories submitted on their site and has been visited by very close to half a million people in over 160 countries. Wayne was named 15th most influential LGBTI person in Britain in the 2015 Independent on Sunday Rainbow list, and received a Points of Light award from Prime Minister David Cameron in 2016 for his work with the LGBT+ community. Wayne is also Attitude Magazine’s advice columnist, has chaired panels on LGBT+ issues at the Student Pride and Being A Man festivals, and appeared on This Morning offering coming out advice. Wayne has worked tirelessly since the age of 23 to support young LGBT folks, having a major impact along the way.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Emma Cusdin

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

2017 WINNER: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Emma Cusdin has over 20 years experience in Human Resources having worked for global financial services organisations. She is currently a People Director with Aviva and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. Emma is an openly trans woman, having transitioned in 2009, and is passionate about raising awareness of trans issues. She has spoken at many events, is a trustee for Gires and sits on the trans advisory group for LGBT insurance company Emerald Life. Emma co-founded trans*formation, the UK’s largest professional networking organisation for trans* individuals, their friends and colleagues. Through the creation of Trans*formation and her hugely professional approach to building understanding, she has become a stand out role model in the trans community. Emma has helped educate so many people about the challenges and opportunities for those transitioning.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Olly Pike

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Olly Pike is the creator of ‘Pop’n’Olly’ an LGBT+ educational resource for children, parents and teachers. His books and videos are being used in schools to teach about equality and diversity and aim to combat homophobia and discrimination. Olly regularly produces fun, informative videos and cartoons that are free to watch on the YouTube channel ‘Pop’n’Olly’ or at www.popnolly.com. Olly has also enjoyed success as a performer and has worked in both children’s theatre and television. Noted as one to watch on the Independent on Sunday’s “Rainbow List”, Olly has since spoken at London City Hall and Parliament, regarding Children’s Rights and Mental Health in relation to LGBT+ Education. He has had a transformative impact on young lives through his videos and books, removing stigma and building open minds during Primary and Junior education.


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SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Sharon has become a role model as a woman and LGBT professional in the Construction industry – two aspects that have been desperately lacking for many years. She is a Chartered Quantity Surveyor who has worked on many high profile projects in both Yorkshire and Australia. Sharon is currently Sector Commercial Lead within the growing Carillion Services Projects division, where she has commercial responsibility for project work from 8 of their Facilities Management clients. In 2016, Sharon founded, and became Global Co-Chair of the Carillion LGBT support network – Connect. Their network has joined with other construction industry companies in an LGBT working group called Building Equality with the aim of improving the industry for all. Sharon also co-founded a social enterprise called STEER, which provides industry mentors for built environment students to bridge the gap between education and industry.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Bisi Alimi

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Bisi Alimi is a public speaker, storyteller, television pundit, campaigner, actor and Vlogger. He is also the founder and director of the Bisi Alimi Foundation. Bisi’s expertise on social justice ranges from sexual orientation and gender identity to race and race relations, feminism, education and poverty alleviation. In 2004, Bisi came out as gay on national television in Nigeria making him the first ever Nigerian LGBT person to do so. He has appeared on many international television stations as a social and political pundit, including, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and CCTV, and outlets like NPR and the Washington Post have profiled him. Bisi’s TEDx talk, “There Should Never Be Another Ibrahim” has been listed as one of the 14 most inspiring QUEER TEDtalks of all time, and he gave the closing speech at the Daily Beast event hosted at the New York Public Library titled, “I am Bisi Alimi and I am not a victim.


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Positive Role Model (LGBT)

Ian Ashton

  • 2 years ago
  • written by NDA

SHORTLISTED NOMINEE: 

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL AWARD FOR LGBT –


Ian has worked for Lancashire Constabulary for over 23 years performing a number of roles including Immediate Response, Neighbourhood Policing, Motorway, Road Policing, Strategic Equality & Diversity and most recently the Community Cohesion and Hate Crime Officer for West Division covering Blackpool and Lancaster. Ian came out quite late in life and at a time when there was only one other openly gay male police office in Lancashire. Since then, he has shown relentless commitment to equality, devoting his time and energy to raising awareness of LGBT+ issues. Ian is the chair of the LGB&T Staff Support Network for Lancashire Constabulary and has been performing this role for nearly 10 years. Outside of work he is a Trustee for Lancashire LGB&T, Horizon and sits on the board for URPotential. Ian has clearly impacted his peers, which was evident through numerous endorsements.


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