Tabby Besley is ready to meet the Queen - complete with her trademark brightly-coloured hair.

The 22-year-old human rights advocate is the only New Zealand recipient of the inaugural Queen's Young Leaders award.

She is flying to the United Kingdom this week to be handed the prize by the Queen on Monday at Buckingham Palace for her advocacy work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex school students.

And she's sure to be wearing her favourite pattern - polka dots - for the "surreal" experience.


Ms Besley was just 15 when she came out at Nayland College in Nelson, after moving from the UK at age 12. She was helped through the process by a school support group for gay and straight students.

"I was really lucky to go to a school that had a gay-straight alliance and was really supportive, so largely I had a really privileged experience," she said. The ambitious youngster rose to become leader of the group and then set up the Nelson Q-Youth drop-in centre so teens would have a place outside school hours to go to.

"Being one of the few openly out queer people at school means that other people, especially younger students, feel comfortable with you and you're one of the first people they come out to or go to for support," she said.

"Hearing all these other people's stories about how hard it was for them showed me that there was so much work that needs to be done."

She became the centre coordinator when she finished high school and later started InsideOUT, formerly the Queer Straight Alliance, in 2012, with the aim of making schools more inclusive for young LGBTI people.

A lack of education was behind a lot of the discrimination towards these young people, she found.

"We need better education in our health classes in schools, because a lot of bullying and discrimination comes from that lack of understanding," she said.

Ms Besley is the only New Zealander out of 60 young people worldwide who will receive the Queen's Young Leaders award, selected from 1800 nominations. It is the first year of the award, which celebrates exceptional people aged 18 to 29 across the Commonwealth.

Ms Besley will undergo a year-long online leadership course run by Cambridge University and stay in the UK for a week from tomorrow as part of the award.