Gay youth advocate first Kiwi to earn Queen's new honour

DEVOTED TO CAUSE: Tabby Besley has been honoured by the Queen for her gay youth advocacy work.
MAARTEN HOLL / Fairfax NZ

DEVOTED TO CAUSE: Tabby Besley has been honoured by the Queen for her gay youth advocacy work.

When human rights advocate Tabby Besley meets the Queen this year, she not only has to decide what to wear, but what colour to dye her distinctive hair.

Perhaps a rainbow hairstyle would be most appropriate, as Besley has devoted her young life to supporting her peers in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Aged just 22, she is the only New Zealander to be awarded a Queen's Young Leader award, a new honour given to 60 young people worldwide for their devotion to Commonwealth values.

"It's pretty exciting," Berhampore resident Besley said.

"I had no idea I would get this far, and that I would actually succeed. It's pretty daunting to be running a national charity at 22."

Besley will undergo a year-long leadership development course run online by Cambridge University, with a week's trip to the United Kingdom included. While there in June, she will receive her award from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

"What do I wear? That's my main question. I'm a bit nervous," she said.

"What hair colour will be right for the Queen?"

Besley runs the nationwide gay youth charity InsideOUT, which supports students to set up gay-straight alliance groups in high schools. A few months ago a grant meant the job began paying for the first time.

"That was a really massive milestone."

Bullying was a huge problem among gay teenagers, or even students perceived to be gay by their peers. Half had been bullied for their sexual orientation, and a quarter physically abused, Besley said.

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The charity was inspired by Besley's positive experience coming out as gay with the support of a similar group at Nayland College in Nelson.

"It was just about knowing I wasn't alone, and there was a group of people in my school, not on the internet and far away, a group of people right there that I could find a sense belonging with," she said.

Besley was also commended by the award panel for her support of marriage equality last year as co-chairperson of LegaliseLove lobby group.

"It's another really positive message that can go out to young people saying 'you're equal to heterosexual people, your relationship is just as valid'."

Besley's advocacy has got her another nod recently, as a contender for Young New Zealander of the Year 2015.

"But I'm up against Lorde, so I don't know how that will go," she said.

Besley's opposition to discrimination based on violence, sexuality, and gender exemplified Commonwealth values, Commonwealth Youth New Zealand executive director Aaron Hape said.

 - The Dominion Post

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