A global pandemic couldn’t stop this queer trailblazer from creating a safe space for trans people to connect. Now, she’s the Uber Eats LGBT+ Friend of the Year

Samantha Howard

This year’s been more challenging than most, and for many it’s highlighted just how important our LGBT+ friends and allies are.

That’s why for the first time ever at the PinkNews Awards 2020, we gave you the chance to celebrate the ones you love and give them the shout out they deserve with the Uber Eats LGBT+ Friend of the Year Award.

The results are in, and we’re thrilled to announce our winners who each went above and beyond for their LGBT+ friends.

In first place, winning a £250 Uber Eats voucher, is Samantha Howard.

Samantha Howard was nominated in part for the unshakable support she gave her trans friend throughout their transition.

“She has been there every step of the way, leading by example, always giving good advice while never pushing.

“Whether by tweet, WhatsApp or phone call, her caring and supportive attitude has made my transition at least bearable,” her friend told PinkNews. “I wouldn’t be here now without her help.”

Her friend also wanted to thank her for the time and energy she’s put into T&Coffee Trans Network, an initiative in coordination with Tesco that connected trans people with their communities in lockdown.

It came about when Samantha herself was looking for face-to-face support, but struggled to find social activities that didn’t involve drinking.

“Even with supportive online communities on social media, being a trans or gender-diverse person can be a very lonely experience. People on the whole are social creatures, we need to have real world interaction with each other,” she said.

“The problem comes when fear of how people will react to us becomes part of our decision-making process.”

Seeing nothing else on the horizon, Samantha decided to create her own alcohol-free, accessible, low-pressure social safe spaces. Her idea dovetailed nicely with Tesco and the supermarket was keen to help.

“Not only do they have a large, safe and alcohol free network of cafes in store, but they were really excited to get involved. So we started hosting social meetings,” Samantha said.

Unfortunately, 2020 had different plans – but Samantha didn’t let a mere global pandemic get in the way. “Within a couple of days we had created an online platform. I know, the opposite of what we wanted to do, but it has been a fantastic experience,” she said.

It meant they were able to increase social events from one per month to twice weekly, and the community rapidly expanded outside the UK, too.

In our community, you will always be able to find a friend.

“We now have regular members who attend from the USA and all over Europe. Whilst it was sad to have to temporarily close the doors, we opened up to an amazing group of people,” Samantha said.

“Those people have gone on to do amazing things – we’ve recently had a member help us release a benefit album, and within 48 hours of suggesting it, we had more music than we could fit onto a single CD!”

T&Coffee will return bigger and better than ever when the pandemic ends, but in the meantime it continues to be a fantastic resource for the trans community. And it’s provided Samantha with a community of her own, too.

“I have never felt so lucky to be part of anything,” she said. “When so many people who have faced so much adversity come together to support one another, amazing things happen.

“The incredible people I’ve met, the beautiful friendships I’ve found and the spirit of strength in unity has been nothing short of breathtaking. As a community we have such an incredibly strong bond, sharing a strength in unity and showing the world that love wins.

“I’m proud because I feel I am a tiny part of that message, extending that bond to the people I meet and knowing that in our community, you will always be able to find a friend.”

In second place, winning a £150 Uber Eats voucher, is Meg McGrady.

(Shona Louise Photography)

Meg was nominated by one of their “nearest and dearest queer friends” who wanted to thank them for inspiring her everyday with their pride and bravery.

They never cease to make her smile, she said, whether it’s with a cardboard Pride parade or a homemade music video deconstructing gender through dance. “I am so so lucky to call them my friend,” we heard.

Meg’s support isn’t limited to their friends – they extend it to the entire LGBT+ community through their own theatre company, Queerly Productions, which they launched at just 21.

The group is dedicated to giving trans and non-binary dancers a platform in musical theatre, and they recently recruited 65 performers to raise £1,000 for UK Black Pride and Gendered Intelligence.

“The musical theatre industry can be a wonderful place but it still has a long way to go when it comes to representing queer women and trans people on stage and in creative teams,” Meg told PinkNews.

“At the moment we are focused on highlighting their talent through our show Sinqueerly Me, a cabaret show where we ask two storytellers to make their own jukebox musical exploring their queer or trans journey reclaiming musical theatre songs both new and old.

“In the future, we would love to expand even further with producing original new musicals and bringing the LGBT+ community even closer together within theatre.”

Things have been tough in the entertainment industry this year, but Meg kept their fellow creatives connected with a virtual event, MTPRIDE, which was a series of three live streams of all LGBT+ musical theatre performers and creatives.

It’s all part and parcel of their inspirational work on behalf of the LGBT+ community, and everything they do speaks to their pride in being a part of it.

“It’s the solidarity that makes me proud,” they said.

In third place, winning a £100 Uber Eats voucher, is Ciaran Frame.

A black and white picture of Ciaron sitting on a stool

(Lilo Amaral)

Ciaran was nominated by his friend, who’s been inspired by him “in so many ways”. He described him as “the most aware and selfless person I have ever met,” adding that “talking to him makes you feel like there is only kindness in the world”.

Ciaran is driven by a desire to help others and become a positive influence on those around him. He’s now working to amplify queer voices and stories through his incredible photography series “Queer Acts of Resistance”, which gives LGBT+ people a platform to portray themselves in an honest, authentic way.

Each photo is an answer to the question: “What is your act of queer resistance?”

“He’s giving people who are typically made to hide away and feel ashamed of who they are this safe space to show themselves to the world and celebrating them for it, asking them to reflect on how their queer existence is an act of resistance,” Ciaran’s friend told us.

“It is something I find to be extremely inspiring.”

You can follow Ciaran’s work and share in his positive energy at on Instagram here.

Congratulations again to all our winners!