Liberate CEO Ellie Jones moved to Guernsey when she was 18 years old, intending to come visit her dad just for the summer. But island life drew her in and in recent years she has made an incredible impact as an activist for the LGBTQ+ community.
She shared her story with us in an open and honest interview, talking about her personal life, her work and the passion that drives her to speak up for equality and acceptance for all. She also opened up about the challenges that she - and many others - face living in Guernsey, and the reasons why she is reluctantly considering leaving the island.
Ellie is Listed.
I was born in the Wirral and I’d describe myself as a Scouser at heart, without the accent… although the accent does break out when I’ve had a few drinks! I come from a large, blended family - I’m one of eight siblings. My parents split up when I was young and my dad moved to Guernsey with my brother. These days we’re spread out all around the globe, with family in Guernsey, the UK, America and New Zealand.
School was fun but it wasn't easy for me. I had the ability to pass exams but I simply didn’t thrive at school. I left Sixth Form at 18 after flunking my A Levels, and came to Guernsey for the summer to work for my dad. He owned Jones and Bradburn and he put me to work. I was a jack of all trades, doing a bit of everything, from sales to accounts and admin. That time gave me the tools and confidence to take on lots of different jobs that have come my way over the years.
I would describe my family and upbringing as complicated, but that has helped to build my resilience. When I was 8 years old my best friend died in a road traffic accident and just before I moved to Guernsey another close friend died. These things were devastating, but I think they do help to give perspective and help you to build the skills to cope with whatever life throws at you.
I didn’t realise I was gay as a young adult. I grew up in the shadow of Section 28 legislation; laws introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 80's which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools or through published materials - so teachers couldn't talk about homosexuality and libraries were forbidden from holding books with any gay content. That law wasn’t repealed until 2003 and it left a legacy of secrecy and shame, stopping people from talking about their feelings around their sexuality.
I dated some guys when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I experienced a same sex kiss after a hockey festival when I was 23 years old that I worked it out! That kiss changed everything for me - it made me realise what all the fuss was about! Being openly gay in Guernsey wasn’t easy back then. When I first came out there was a gay bar over the Harbour Lights where people met up on a Monday night, but we were largely a hidden community.
There was very little visibility of gay people expressing themselves openly in their everyday lives. The only gay people who were available as role models were either very camp or extreme feminists. Thankfully things have changed massively and queer people are more visible in mainstream media, in film, tv and ads. There’s still more to be done, but this positive representation has made such a big difference in enabling people to be true to themselves.
I moved to London in 2003 to be with my partner at the time, and found the freedom there liberating. I lived there for around 8-9 years and did lots of different jobs, travelling through work to Monaco and the Maldives. I worked for a high end, luxury lifestyle business that offered ‘Life Butler’ services. I would find myself being whisked off to high end functions in luxury locations to cater for wealthy clients and guests, then come crashing back to earth on the bus back to my flat on the outskirts of London.
‘Coming out’ was such a natural progression for me that there isn’t a specific moment or conversation that I can recall. I think if you surround yourself with people who are living a similar lifestyle they are so accepting that there is no negativity. I haven’t actually had a conversation with my dad about my sexuality - I would think he knows by now!
People often worry, sometimes panic, about how people will react. But for many, coming out is actually a simple conversation and you often find that your close family and friends already know.
I came back to Guernsey when I was made redundant and I initially found it difficult to settle. Life here was so different from the gay scene in London and I missed the community feel. I was struck by the lack of equal rights for gay people on the island and the fact that there was no legal framework for same sex marriage. I think that living that contrast is what made me an activist. There was no need to take that stance in London, things were happening naturally, but in Guernsey there was - and still is - work to be done.
I was one of the founding members of Liberate when it started in 2014, working on marketing and PR for the charity. When we were shortlisted for charity of the year, that led to a grant and a paid part-time position. One of our first missions was to bring in same sex marriage laws, which we have done. Our continued focus is education, law reform and providing support to those who need it. For example, although gay people can adopt here in Guernsey, same sex couples can't both be named on their childrens birth certificates. Essentially they don’t have equal birth rights with regards to registering their children as straight people. That needs to change.
My position with Liberate is quite high profile, and my partner and I have experienced some verbal abuse when we’ve been out together, but that only strengthens my sense of purpose. I don’t like people being mistreated. I feel strong enough to stick up for myself, but what about those who can’t? They need a voice, I can take on that role. An example of that is support for same sex marriage. It’s not something my partner and I necessarily want for us, but I believe that everyone should have that right.
From a professional perspective, one of the most important things we have achieved at Liberate is the new health agreement for trans people. There were tears of joy when that was approved because it really does change lives. We now have one of the best state funded health care systems for trans people across the globe. The numbers who will benefit from this are small, but the impact is huge.
From a personal point of view, my proudest moment was standing behind the stage at the first Channel Islands Pride, looking out at the crowd and thinking “We did that!” There was torrential rain that year and we were worried about the turnout but the community got behind us and we had so much support. It’s now the biggest free community event in Guernsey with 10% of the population turning out last time. Yes, some people come along just for the party, but that's ok because they’ll learn something along the way through celebration rather than preaching… and the snow machines are a nice touch!
I find it difficult to switch off from work because it’s hard to separate what I do for Liberate and how I live my life. My life is LGBTQ+ focused, 24/7. I don’t want to be seen as just the voice of Liberate, I lead from the heart. So although there may be two sides to me - Ellie from Liberate and Ellie the person - they are very much one and the same. What you see is what you get! I may use slightly different language depending on the circumstances, but the underlying message is always the same.
To unwind I turn to boxing, and I also enjoy yoga. I also love connecting with people, and there are lots of opportunities to do that here in Guernsey. I genuinely love ‘my community’ on the island and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people who are very positive and supportive. I’m a bit of an extrovert, and my partner of 7 years is an introvert so we work together to get the right balance for our relationship.
To be honest, my partner and I are thinking about leaving the island. Not because we want to - I’ve had my time in London - but because the high cost of housing here in Guernsey is making it impossible to stay. It’s a scary thought. I feel that through Liberate I have genuinely found my purpose but we, like many people, simply can’t afford to buy a house here and the rental market is just ridiculous. In my opinion the situation is reaching a crisis point. I think there is a bubble of privilege and a lack of incentive to change the situation because large chunks of property on the island are owned by people of influence.
I believe in equality and fairness for all, that's what drives me to do the work I do. It's important to keep the conversation going and one thing I always try to do is put people at ease with the language they use. People worry about saying the wrong thing but unless they are purposefully being rude, people really don’t care. It’s better to have people engage in the conversation rather than shy away from talking in case they use the wrong terminology.
And things are always changing. I describe myself as queer, it’s an umbrella term that’s been claimed back by the LGBTQ+ community in recent times, with a move away from gay which is sometimes used in a derogatory way.
But really I am just me - I don’t need a label.