DIVA meets Dr. Elly Barnes MBE, the woman behind the wonderful charity Educate & Celebrate


If you aren’t already aware of the amazing work that Educate & Celebrate do for LGBTQI inclusivity here in the UK, it’s a great time to introduce you. They’ve been working harder than ever over the past few months to make sure diversity and inclusive isn’t swept under the rug whilst access to education has been especially difficult. 

They equip communities with the knowledge, skills and confidence to embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric of their organisations.

Dr. Elly Barnes is the Founder & CEO of Educate & Celebrate and has been championing LGBTQI inclusive work in schools since 2005.

DIVA caught up with the wonderful trailblazer Elly to get to know her better, and to find out how Educate & Celebrate have been tackling these challenging times for education.

DIVA: What’s your career background? What led to you setting up Educate & Celebrate? 

DR. ELLY BARNES: I started out as a performer and musician, mostly as a singer specialising in Opera, Children’s Theatre, singing teacher and conductor of County Choirs until I settled in a school in North London teaching music and then becoming Head of Year, whereupon the LGBTQI inclusive work started. 

I had a desire to educate the kids I was working with and also to understand the more complex issues of why staff were not out and why LGBTQI pupils and families were having such a tough time of it.

I have dedicated myself since to changing the face of education, to promote an inclusive education that decolonises the curriculum and advocates for an intersectional approach ensuring all our represented. 

Has it always been important to you that you’re out at work?

For me, yes, I feel we always work better when we can be ourselves. It’s so much more comfortable when those around me know who I am. I’ve never felt that I have anything to hide and it’s the other person’s issue if they do! 

I do realise however that this is not the case for everyone and naturally I work with people constantly who are not out. However, the lovely thing is that they are usually well and truly out by the end of the process! Just this year, a long serving teacher finally came out to all the pupils and teachers in a series of assemblies, moved in with their partner and received a promotion. Empowerment in full play here, it has made my year. 

What are the main struggles that education has faced over the past three months?

It has been a case of trying to look after each other whilst reaching all pupils remotely; especially the most vulnerable where predominantly there has been little access to electronic devices. Schools have had to work really hard and all hours to safeguard vulnerable young people at this time and in a lot of cases the schools have provided laptops for the young people themselves to enable them to stay in contact. Staff too have up skilled to creatively deliver online to provide interactive lessons, assemblies and events for the children in their care. 

It has been a stream of catastrophic events globally too, with horrific police brutality and death of George Floyd, the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and subsequent events, the leaked rollbacks on trans rights in the UK just to name a few – all at a time of a global pandemic. Everyone has been affected emotionally; we can enter into conversations with our young people about all of these events to ensure they are given the facts, have a space to express their thoughts and are given a platform to speak. Young voices are our future.

Dr. Elly Barnes MBE

What Educate & Celebrate training opportunities can people get involved with right now?

Welcome to the world of webinars! – I’ve up skilled over lockdown and have taught myself filmmaking and webinar creation – it feels like being a DJ on the webinars. I like it – it feels much more creative as I can play music, show videos, sing, invite other speakers, do polls, collect evidence etc.

This is the way forward, anyone from any organisation from education through to business can book us to deliver their Diversity & inclusion Training and also join one of our programmes for sustainability. We have hundreds of accompanying resources too some of which you can download for free and many more when you join us an exclusive member. 

What would you say to people considering getting involved? 

Go right ahead – every organisation needs someone or a team to lead on inclusivity and be the advocate for all employees and stakeholders. Anyone can lead on human rights, it does not have to be the queer person leading on gender identity and sexual orientation, the person with autism leading on disabilities and the black person leading on anti-racism – inclusion is everyone’s responsibility and it’s up to all of us to get educated. So, I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to take the lead with trusted colleagues to head up D&I in the workplace. 

Why is it so important to you that we continue educating and LGBTQI issues during this time?

Because we still do not have complete parity, understanding and inclusive policies across the board of the equality strands to protect the rights of queer people. We may have some improved legislation nationally but certainly not internationally, and we definitely have not reached a point where we have changed hearts and minds, this is still woefully evident in hate crime statistics and those accessing mental health services. 

I know from experience that change comes through taking a step-by-step approach to bring everyone on board slowly and safely by answering questions openly and honestly during the journey. Without a doubt though, I believe we have to ruffle a few feathers along the way otherwise we will get nowhere! 

Head over to the Educate & Celebrate website to find out more about all their incredible and inclusive work.

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