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By Mel Somerville.

The ACON Honour Awards are an annual celebration of outstanding service and inspirational achievements within the NSW LGBTI community.

Now in its 12th year, the ACON Honour Awards is a fantastic celebration of the many individuals and organisations who work tirelessly in support of the LGBTI community and of the LGBTI communities’ diversity, strength and resilience.

The Honour Awards recognises people and organisations whose work has made a difference to the lives of LGBTI people in NSW. There are lot of organisations in Australia and a lot of people’s lives that would be a lot worse off if it weren’t for volunteers doing amazing work, particularly in remote regional areas.

“All recipients of an Honour Award, as well as all finalists, are all heroes, each one unique and special in their own way,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill. “We are grateful for the passion, hard work and contributions in their respective fields.”

ACON received over 140 fantastic nominations from community members all around NSW and Australia. Four finalists were selected for each category, the most prestigious being the Community Hero Award. Other categories are Young Achiever, HIV Hero, Community Organisation, Health & Wellbeing, Arts & Entertainment and Business Award. Some categories are open nationally, namely the Media Award and the Cayte Latta Memorial Awards for Visual Arts.

“The calibre of nominations and nominees is always high for the Honour Awards, with this year being no different,” Parkhill said.

Last year’s Honour Awards was a spectacular event with over 300 people attending and hosted by Olympic gold medallist Matthew Mitcham, featuring singer Alfie Arcuri, DJ Kate Monroe and red carpet host Candy Box.

Winner of the Community Hero Award 2016, Dorothy McRae-McMahon, who is 84 years old and an author of 19 books, has spent a lot of time writing and speaking about women’s issues and is well known for taking a stand within the religious community.

McRae-McMahon looked after her disabled son for 16 years and after she had to put him into care, joined many movements for change. At 45 she had a sense of call to the ministry and became one of the first ordained female ministers in Australia, at the time only allowed by Uniting Church. Just recently the Uniting Church have led the vote to officially perform same sex marriages.

“Even before the issue of same sex marriage our church had agreed to ordain openly gay and lesbian people. I was the first. I informed the church officially that I was a lesbian, at the time I was a member of the Church’s National Assembly, the Uniting Church national body that makes the doctrine laws of the church. I stood up and owned my sexuality and I got a 85% vote of support,” said McRae-McMahon.

McRae-McMahon spent 10 years at Pitt Street Sydney Uniting Church, renowned for its human rights work and street level activism.

“I used to refer people who needed support, who were reflecting on their sexuality from the LBGTI community to ACON,” she said.

McRae-McMahon is humble about her achievements and is a down to earth person comfortable in her own skin who doesn’t think of herself as important.

“It’s just that I lived in an age where there were opportunities for joining all sorts of movements for change and I’m very glad I could do that,” McRae-McMahon said.

“I don’t often not say what I want to say and I tend to say what I believe,” she added.

Last year’s ACON Community Hero Award winner, Elaine Czulkowski, also won Australian Woman Of The Year in 2017, her most prominent work being around marriage equality. Czulkowski volunteered on that campaign for 10 years, and for the last two, was working on it full-time.  She was a founding member of mentor program, Out For Australia, helping young LGBTI people transition from university to the workplace. She’s been an ACON Rover, helping out at large events and keeping people safe.

Czulkowski currently works in ACON’s Crowd Inclusion Program, helping employers, sporting organisations and healthcare providers to make the workplace a safer and more inclusive place for LGBTI people.

“Just being able to do a day job about all the things you’re passionate about really makes a big difference,” Czulkowski said.

Her first foray into volunteering in the LGBTI community was at Mardi Gras in 1998. Originally from Sunderland in north east England, she came to Australia and married, then moved to Sydney in 1998, saw Mardi Gras for the first time and wanted to get involved.

“It changed my life, I found where I belonged, I realised I was bisexual, I thought this is what I’ve been looking for,” Czulkowski said.

“ACON was where I met a lot of people doing amazing work. You don’t do the work to get recognised. Sometimes I think you get far more back than you put in. The people you meet along the way, it’s very rewarding, just being able to have that skill where I can help other people,” Czulkowski added.

Oct 3. Ivy Ballroom, 330 George St, Sydney. $75-$150+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.honourawards.com.au