Ellie Lowther is a mixed-race trans rights defender, who has opted for a multi-agency approach to her work by delivering awareness workshops and consulting with community organisations to develop trans-friendly policies. Her main line of work includes: raising awareness of trans rights amongst young people, increasing diversity in community organisations, and promoting the global trans movement online.
If you would like to get in touch with Ellie please contact her by email:
Could you please give us a little information about the work you do and how you began?
My work is akin to a jigsaw or mosaic with many aspects making the whole. When I came out as my true self in 2012, I soon realised that there were no specific or suitable support services for binary trans people such as myself, so I headed onto the challenging path of creating a support model that has a positive effect and creates true understanding. I am the founder of Trans Aware, the first trans specific registered charity in the north of England and have supported over 300 gender variant individuals since we began in 2017.
Previous to that I set up Cleveland Transgender Association in 2012 when I “came out” as a trans woman. I currently hold quite a few positions including supporting Self-Referral homeless people via 2020group in the Teesside area and I’m also the creator of the “Our House Project”, which provided a safe living space for those who identify as trans which has now been expanded to all community groups in my locale via 2020group. I also help write policies such as the trans inclusion framework being used by schools in the Stockton-on-Tees area, as well as for Cleveland Police to aid those coming out as trans within the local force.
I also deliver and create awareness sessions and work-shops which I write myself for hundreds of organisations in the UK, and have also delivered sessions for over 1600 young people via National Citizen Service in the last two years. From an awareness perspective I am the founder of Essential Learning Curve LTD, bringing together some passionate people from marginalised communities and those with protected characteristics to deliver cultural awareness and diversity to the issues faced in the UK today.
I am currently curating the Border Sessions which is a grassroots event with a world-wide reach via the internet, bringing a monthly ‘speakers’ corner’ and an open mic community event to Middlesbrough which is streamed around the world. The Punk Rock Martha’s in Los Angeles named me the UK Martha, a title I am proud to have and a concept I am equally proud to promote of women doing amazing things to empower and assist the community. I’ve also volunteer as a Diversity Officer for Age UK Teesside and look forward to adding this work to my ever-growing portfolio. I am self-employed and also offer consultancy to businesses and organisations of all sizes.
Can you describe a little bit about your background?
My personal background is very working class. From a family of 6 living in a 2-bedroom terrace house in the centre of Middlesbrough. Always knowing I was different though not having the vocabulary to voice what was going on inside whilst the world viewed and treated me as male. This brought many dysfunctional aspects, such as almost 30 years of my life lost in a cloud of recreational drugs that served to block me from myself!
I am also a survivor and know the issues faced by those who have endured sexual abuse, as I have in my childhood. I am truly inspired to help others as I believe we need to “be the change” we want to see in the world. Through my strength and work as a trans woman I am kept quite busy and look forward to seeing what the future holds. I do not believe I could have achieved anything until I was able to be my true self and thankfully, the woman writing this, no longer needs to struggle through life as a shadow of herself.
In your experience what are the main difficulties women human rights defenders face?
Firstly, there is the issue of binary trans women not being accepted as female as we face the vitriol of trans excluding feminists. I feel the “TERF” agenda is actually holding feminism back as we struggle to have our voices heard when we silence parts of our community. I struggled to fit into the gender role imposed upon me as I have identified as female for as long as I remember, even way back when we simply didn’t have the words to express this. By excluding binary trans women the world is missing out on lived perspectives from beyond the barricade, so to speak.
Secondly, I have recognised that once I became accepted as female in the male dominated world, I have had to shout louder to be heard! It was a wake-up call to me as I see many amazing women whose voices are lessened in this sense. I recognise that we all work harder to make positive change and I truly believe that gender equality is vitally important to create the world that includes everyone as equals.
Have you found certain groups of women are more at risk than others? If you are comfortable sharing your own experiences, could you provide examples?
Yes, I am a mixed race, binary trans woman. And as such I understand the risks involved by living openly and the importance of speaking out for fairness and equality. Well over 300 trans women were murdered due to hatred and bigotry in the last year (2018) as our Transgender Day Of Remembrance (20th November) list was revealed it shows that the vast majority of these people who have lost their lives were people of colour.
I feel most women face oppression in this world, whether it is based in culture or in a personal sense. Being trans increases this feeling as we face discrimination from a small percentage of other women yet being from an ethnic or racial minority background increases the risk as the numbers of those who have lost their lives show. This is why allies are so important as I feel we need to stand up to hatred wherever it appears.
In your experience as a defender, what are your main concerns when carrying out your activism in the private, public, and digital sphere?
In my experience my main concerns are that being vocal and challenging injustices in our world can put the individual under threat of attack whether verbal or physical. This takes a strong sense of determination to carry on regardless. This can affect emotional wellbeing as well as physical so I understand when some simply would rather keep their heads down than to stand up to oppression and injustice.
Personally, I feel unable to not speak out as I am committed to helping empower other women’s voices to be heard. I am aware that some trans women are very reclusive and they do not feel they would be accepted as themselves. This saddens me as we have but one life and if we are unable to be our true selves then the world is missing out on some amazing people.
In the face of all these challenges, what has given you the motivation to continue?
When I set up Trans Aware it was with a simple concept #freetobeme. I came up with this quote which still holds true:
“Every one of us can face discrimination and hatred for simply being ourselves. Until we are all truly free to be ourselves, we will never create the safer, more inclusive world, that benefits us all.”
Can you think of any good practices (legal, administrative, policy, etc) that allow you to carry out your work safely?
In the UK we have the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under this act. The PSED states that policies, procedures, and practices need to be in place to encourage participation. This would be fine if it was followed in a real sense though sadly, so many organisations and businesses simply pay it lip service rather than embed it into their services. I have personally written policies and will continue to do so for whoever approaches me.
I also notice that many places do not have a specific diversity officer in place to implement and facilitate Equality and Diversity strategies and support which is why I offer myself to this role in an ad-hoc sense to help all organisations enable and empower their staff, service users, and the general public.
How do you think we can strengthen the women’s rights movement globally?
By collaborating and supporting each other. More education needs to be available to bring understanding around ‘transgender’ as divisions only serve to hurt us all. Building a network of activists around the world from all the [gender] spectrum of what it is to be female can only empower us all, and the world around us.
In your experience which techniques and practices have been particularly effective at keeping you safe?
Having the strength and conviction of my own self has proved invaluable to my progress. Always following my instinct when deciding on a course of events has managed to keep me safe thus far, so I would suggest that we always need to listen to the voice within. If something feels uncertain or dangerous, we should take precautionary measures whilst still feeling brave enough to speak out.
What self-care methods have you felt are most effective for battling burn-out and helping you deal with the challenges you face?
Personally, I have found that by finding an interest such as music, art, or writing has given me the personal safe space to express myself and release some of the frustrations faced within my work. Finding my own sense of peace has become vital as without an element of self-care I cannot serve from an empty vessel.
What advice do you have for other women activists, particularly for young women interested in getting involved in the movement?
Be strong, have faith in your convictions, and never shy away from speaking out against injustice. Read, learn, grow, and also don’t feel that you are unable to change your perception if new understanding or information comes your way. This is truly how we grow into the confident women who have the ability to shape our world for the benefit of all in a sense of fairness and equality.
If you could give your younger self, just beginning in HRD, one piece of advice – what would it be?
To let her know that everything is going to be okay. Life is a road of many steps and often has twists and turns along the way. Keep going, and don’t be afraid to reach out. You are worth it.