By Rita Bratovich
The inherent defiance, solidarity, grit, and creativity among members of the LGBTI community has helped it not only survive but triumph in the face of uncommon adversity. Dealing with crisis after crisis including legal discrimination, hate crimes, and the AIDS epidemic, the community has often had to turn inward for support, leading to the establishment of organisations such as ACON (AIDS Council of NSW). Created in 1985 initially to address the needs of gay men affected by HIV, the organisation now provides a broad range of health and support services relevant to the entire LGBTI community. In 2007, ACON held their inaugural Honour Awards to help raise funds for the organisation and acknowledge some of the unsung heroes in the community – there was only one award given. This year, in its twelfth iteration, the Honour Awards was held with a lavish cocktail party in the Ivy Ballroom.
The spectacular evening included red carpet greetings by Drag Royalty, Candy Box; music by DJ legend, Kate Monroe; live entertainment via the extraordinary vocal cords of Catherine Alcorn; and charismatic hosting by TV presenter Andrew Mercado. A buffet of generously donated prizes was displayed for the silent auction which, by all accounts, was very successful in raising funds.
“Today, the Honour Awards recognises people and organisations in the LGBTI community across 10 categories spanning the health, HIV, media, youth, entertainment, arts, business, and community sectors,” said ACON President, Justin Koonin, reflecting on how it had grown.
The awards presentation itself was an expression of unified appreciation with special accolades going to CAMP Inc, one of the earliest LGBTI advocacy groups, who received the ACON President’s Award; The Human Rights Law Centre and The Equality Campaign who jointly received the Community Organisation Award; and Robyn Kennedy, a relentless campaigner for over 40 years awarded the Community Hero honour.
The nominees in each category were chosen for their enduring dedication to welfare and causes relevant to the LGBTI community.
“As an event that celebrates how people from all walks of life are helping or inspiring others in our community, diversity is an important part of the nominations process. The Honour Awards is all about recognising outstanding service and/or achievements from all sections of the community.
The contributions and/or achievements of nominees are also extremely important in the judging process. The Honour Awards is about acknowledging all kinds of community service, whether big or small,” explains Koonin.
Recipient of the Media Award, Dr Shirleene Robinson is certainly guilty of outstanding service and achievement. Both as a historian and a qualified media commentator she has helped highlight not only the challenges and injustices faced by LGBTI people, but also the positive impact they have had on society.
“As a historian and somebody who writes in the media, I’m often able to draw attention to voices that traditionally haven’t been heard and to contributions that are often not acknowledged,” says Robinson. “I think history and writing in the media can be a really important way of changing social attitudes and making people think differently about topics.”
Through her work, Robinson has helped draw attention and ultimately bring change to issues such as the “gay panic defence”, gay people in the military and most recently, marriage equality in which she was an active campaigner. She says it’s a particular honour to receive recognition from her own community and believes events like this are vital.
“It’s been a very difficult year in many ways for the LGBTQI community and I think that a night like this has come at a really good time,” says Robinson.
“[ACON] do such incredible work across our community and this is such an important night for them to fundraise so they can continue to do that work; and they have such a proud, wonderful history and it’s really great to be able to support that. It’s a beautiful night for everyone. There’s such a positive feeling in the room.”
Bayvick Lawrance is a young Fijian fashion designer who moved to Sydney several years ago but struggled to find support as a queer Pacific Islander. This motivated him to hold weaving workshops for Pacific Islander LGBTI youth as a way for them to share stories, be creative and feel connected. He is currently curating workshops with Campbelltown Arts Centre. For his efforts, Lawrance was presented with the Young Achiever Award.
“When I was nominated I was so excited but I was not expecting to win at all,” says Lawrance. “I was really surprised when they called my name and as I was walking up to the stage, I just felt so…I was really honoured and really grateful.”
For Lawrance, receiving an award like this is more about encouragement than praise.
“It just kind of like puts more fire to the work you’re doing already.”
He met other nominees on the night and is full of admiration for the work they do, summarising why they deserve to be honoured.
“It’s people like this that makes the community stronger, because they all do different work on different levels. It’s because of them that we get to express ourselves and be free in this country today.”
Convulsively prolific writer, producer, performer, curator, Maeve Marsden was nominated for the Arts and Entertainment Award and though she didn’t walk away with the trophy (in fact, she wasn’t actually there on the night) she appreciates the recognition and the significance of the Awards.
“I went to an Honour Awards a few years ago and it was a beautiful event; it was warm and it was celebratory and I especially love that the Honour Awards celebrate community heroes and political campaigners – that’s really important. That would be the category that I’d want to support and put people forward for because I think there’s a lot of unsung community heroes. I get sung a lot!”
With that, the final word goes once more to ACON President, Justin Koonin.
“We’re grateful for all the support from the community over the years in helping us shine a light on unsung heroes, and raising funds for ACON.”
For a full list of award recipients, go to www.honourawards.com.au
To find out more about ACON visit: www.acon.org.au