Queer gets award from Queen

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.

Tabby Besley is standout, and it's not just her brightly-coloured hair.

Not only is she a semi-finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year and up against Lorde for the award, she has just become an inaugural winner of The Queen's Young Leaders Award.

That means the former Nayland College student who is now 22 will be presented with her award from the Queen at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in June, and will spend a week at Cambridge University.

That announcement was made public yesterday, just as Besley who leads the Queer Straight Alliance Network was launching its rebranding as InsideOut.

"It's very hectic," she said. However, she's always busy on the issues she is passionate about, campaigning for queer youth and was a lobbyist for the marriage equality law change, and that's what she is receiving recognition for.

She is the only New Zealander selected for the Queen's Young Leaders Award which 1800 worldwide were nominated for and 60 selected.

"The advisory panel took many elements into account when selecting winners, including the quality of the potential winner's project, the impact and sustainability of the project in their community, and how the project reflected the values of the Commonwealth charter - in Tabby's case, that is the implacable opposition to discrimination based on violence, sexuality and gender," said Commonwealth Youth New Zealand executive director Aaron Hope.

Besley, who now lives in Wellington, looks back to her time at Nayland as a turning point in her life. "I guess going to Nayland I was really lucky to have NAGS (Nayland Alliance of Gays and Straights). I felt so lucky to have that realising I was queer and coming out. Having the school promoting that group, saying it's ok whoever you are, and embracing that diversity."

She joined the group, thinking she might not be straight, became the leader, then began wondering how it was for students in other schools.

She set up the Nelson Q-Youth drop-in centre because she also wanted a place outside school hours and after finishing school was employed as its coordinator.

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She has gone on to help set up groups in other schools around the country. "Every young person has a right to be safe in school and that's not a reality," she said.

Bullying in schools was still a big issue, she said. To counter that the network last year ran the first New Zealand national Day of Silence, a campaign against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

She also deals with related issues including youth homelessness and substance abuse, and in April will hold a third hui for young people giving them skills to deal with those.

Her mother, Bobby Besley, burst into tears when she came out at 15. Not through any angst, but because she was glad her daughter could tell her.

Bobby Besley, who lives at Hira, sees her daughter's award as "huge" and believes it would not have happened if she hadn't brought her family from East Anglia, England to New Zealand 10 years ago. "My children blame it on Peter Jackson," she said.

They nearly didn't get to stay because they didn't tick all the right boxes for immigration and at one stage were given 42 days to leave the country.

"We went to see MP Nick Smith at his caravan and he had me in tears. I did go to Maryan Street and she was amazing, supportive and helpful."

"I just kept fighting, fighting, fighting to stay. Tabby blossomed and became her real self here."

Besley was in the gallery in Parliament when Street praised her work and leadership as she spoke at the third reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill in 2013.

As a Queen's Young Leader, Besley will undertake a year-long online leadership development course created by Cambridge University and will receive a one-to-one mentorship.

Besley is looking forward to meeting the other young leaders, but also nervous about what to wear when she meets the Queen. "I'm glad I have a few months to work that out," she said.

Next month the winners of the New Zealander of the Year Awards will be announced in Auckland.

"It's pretty strange seeing your name next to Lorde," she said.

She only found out she was among the 11 semi-finalists for Young New Zealander through social media. "I still don't know who nominated me," she said.

 - The Nelson Mail

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