Winner of Independent’s Pink List 2011

The Independent on Sunday readers were asked to nominate their unsung heroes and heroines who make life as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person better – as well as the celebrities who make the world a more entertaining place. Readers responded by sending in more than 1,500 nominations, which boiled down to about 300 separate names.
These were poured over by their panel of expert judges, including two who represented their parties in parliament, two who have represented their countries at sports, a magazine editor, a comedian, four tireless campaigners and a HM Procurator-General.

This years winner was Music teacher, Elly Barnes
Dozens of people emailed The IoS to tell them about Elly Barnes, the teacher who claims the exceptional achievement of eradicating homophobia in her school, and is now helping others to do the same. Some of those who nominated Barnes had worked with her on her “Educate and Celebrate” course for teachers, PGCE students and psychologists, run under the auspices of Ofsted; others are students, past and present. One former pupil said this woman changed her life.

Elly Barnes is so articulate and lively, and so dedicated to educating young people about the importance of accepting ourselves as we are, that it was only a matter of time before she made national headlines.

As music teacher and LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) co-ordinator at Stoke Newington School, she believes that to achieve acceptance, young people need the facts. She says: “It’s ignorance that causes homophobia – once educated, attitudes change. Sometimes it’s a deep-rooted hatred which can take a long time to change. The best way is to show positive role models.”

This can involve using shock tactics, like when she invited black lesbian rapper, Mz.Fontaine to a school assembly. Elly recalls: “She announced straightaway ‘I am currently a lesbian and I am transitioning’. “The students were amazed. Mz.Fontaine then spent an afternoon delivering music workshops which were attended by some previously homophobic girls. Together they wrote a 12-minute rap about diversity.”

Elly put Hackney’s innovative approach to diversity on the national agenda last October when the Guardian ran an article about how lessons on gay history had cut homophobic bullying at the school. “I’ve been doing this for six years,” she says. “When the article came out I got 300 e-mails from schools and parents asking for advice.”

Elly has just taken on a new challenge – running diversity sessions for teachers all over the country, helping them to challenge prejudice and celebrate diversity in the classroom.

She adds: “Some schools think they don’t have to do it, but they do. Schools have a duty to protect young people and create an environment where staff and students feel safe to be themselves.”

Read the names of the other winners and the full Pink List 2011 here

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