LGBTI Community Honours Its Heroes

L-R: Anthony Venn-Brown, Nicholas Stewart-Dowson Turco Lawyers, Stacey Dowson – Dowson Turco Lawyer, Tommy Murphy – Holding The Man Cast & Crew, Rick Feneley – SMH, Steph Sands, Cameron Huang – Holding The Man Cast & Crew, Levinia Crooks, Richard Ezomoh, Kylie du Fresne – Holding The Man Cast & Crew, Manda Hatter and Mel Kelley of Dykes on Bikes.


It was the ‘year of the woman’ at the Honour Awards in Sydney as 10 people and organisations from across NSW and Australia were recognised for their service to NSW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Now in their ninth year, the Honour Awards recognises outstanding achievements within or contributions to NSW’s LGBTI community. The awards are also a gala fundraising event for LGBTI charity Aurora and for ACON, NSW’s leading HIV and LGBTI health organisation.

The winners were selected from a diverse field of 250 nominations and 30 finalists, and were presented with their awards at a ceremony at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney. The event was attended by over 350 people and raised over $50,000 for LGBTI health initiatives supported by ACON and Aurora.

Six of the 10 awards went to women or organisations for or run by women. Steph Sands received the Community Hero Award for over 15 years of developing, guiding and supporting a range of LGBTI community organisations and events including as co-chair of Mardi Gras and founder of Women Say Something. Levinia Crooks, one of Australia’s leading HIV advocates, received the ACON President’s Award in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Country music star Beccy Cole shared the Arts & Entertainment Award with the cast and crew of hit Aussie film Holding The Man for their artistic success and for championing acceptance and inclusion of LGBTI people, while Dykes On Bikes was recognised in the Community Organisation category for 25 years of cultural and community contributions.

Sydney artist Deborah Kelly received the Visual Arts Award for various works exploring LGBTI families, social inclusion and LGBTI cultural history, while Sydney firm Dowson Turco Lawyers won in the Business category for being one of NSW’s most LGBTI-engaged law practices through pro bono work, community partnerships and direct donations to key community organisations.

Sydney Morning Herald writer and editor Rick Feneley was honoured in the Media category for his work investigating Sydney’s historical gay hate homicides, while Anthony Venn Brown picked up the Health & Wellbeing Award for over 20 years of providing leadership and support for LGBTI people of faith and for working to bring ex-gay/conversion therapy practices to an end in Australia. Finally, Richard Ezomoh took out the Young Achiever Award for his HIV prevention and support work with gay and homosexually active men in Nigeria and among Australia’s Nigerian refugee population.

ACON President Mark Orr congratulated the winners and all the finalists on their achievements and community service. “Last night’s event was a truly inspirational and thoroughly entertaining evening and a great celebration of the dynamic spirit of our community, especially the contributions that women are making. I’d like to thank all the people who submitted nominations as well as all our guests for coming along and supporting ACON and Aurora,” Mr Orr says.

Aurora Chair Alison King extended thanks to the event’s partners and supporters. “We thank our event partners SX Magazine, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Foxtel, Merivale, Glyde Health, and OX Live as well as all the people, businesses and organisations which donated items for the silent auction.”

Click here to check out SX's photos from Honour 15




Community Hero Award – Steph Sands

For over 15 years, Steph has developed, guided and supported a broad range of LGBTI community organisations and events including as co-chair of Mardi Gras and founder of Women Say Something. At Mardi Gras, she helped rebuild the organisation after in went into administration in 2002 and helped create a platform for women to have a voice in the ongoing development of the new organisation through two stints as co-chair of Mardi Gras over a ten year period. In 2010 she also created Women Say Something (WSS), a community engagement platform focused on building relevance and participation of women within the community and as part of Mardi Gras. WSS events have brought together thousands of women locally and internationally to provide a platform for expression, debate, protest, the arts and community engagement. Steph is also currently working with the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust to help re-engage the trans** community with Mardi Gras.


President’s Award (recognising lifetime service) – Levinia Crooks

Currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Australasian Society of HIV Medicine (ASHM), Ms Crooks has been a leader in Australia’s response to HIV and AIDS for 25 years and has worked in a variety of professional and volunteer roles in both the community, clinical and research sectors. Ms Crooks has steered the work of ASHM for over 15 years, has a longstanding senior involvement with HIV support agency the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, and has made significant contributions to several other HIV related organisations including the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. She is also a past president of ACON, NSW’s leading HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTI health organisation.


Young Achiever Award – Richard Ezomoh

In 2012, Richard relocated to Australia to escape the persecution of homosexuals in his native Nigeria where he was in grave danger due to his HIV prevention and support work with gay and homosexually active men in the country. Since moving to Australia, Richard has bravely continued to work to reduce HIV transmission and support people with HIV among Australia’s Nigerian refugee population, where attitudes to homosexually remain hostile. He presently works with the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation as a caseworker, managing a client load of about 140 clients living with HIV. He has a biochemistry degree and is presently pursuing a Masters in Public Health from the University of Sydney..


Media Award – Rick Feneley

Rick Feneley is senior writer and editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. A journalist for more than three decades, he has worked at Fairfax Media for the past 17 years, where he has been night editor of the Herald and editor of The Sun-Herald. His news and feature articles also appear The Age and in other Fairfax publications. In 2012, Rick began investigating multiple murders and bashings, dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, which have emerged as gay-hate crimes or attacks that may fit this category. These reports confronted a police culture which, at the time, often dismissed gay-hate attacks as accidents or suicides. In some cases, police were involved in gay bashings. That police culture has improved dramatically but victims and their families still struggle to find answers to crimes that were not investigated properly in the first place. Rick hopes his stories will provide them some answers. Rick has been nominated for A Gay Beat, A Fatal Plunge And The Long Search For Answers, one of a series of articles about these gay hate homicides which played a large part in convincing the NSW Coroner and NSW Police to reopen investigations into several suspicious deaths.


Cayte Latta Memorial Awards For Visual Arts – Deborah Kelly

Sydney artist Deborah Kelly specialises in collage-based work and has been exhibited locally and internationally including in Venice, Singapore, Germany, Austria, Russia, Korea, France, Brazil, Croatia, the US and Indonesia. She was honoured for three submissions: No Human Being Is Illegal (In All Our Glory) – a collection of 19 life-size nude portraits exploring ideas of social inclusion which were exhibited in last year’s Sydney Biennale; The Miracles – a series of photos exhibited at the Australian Centre For Photography exploring the idea of family within LGBTI contexts ; and Acting Up – a paper collage exhibited during last year’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne which creatively interpreted the collection of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archive.


Health and Wellbeing Award – Anthony Venn-Brown

In a former life Anthony Venn-Brown was a famous preacher in Australia’s mega-churches, such as Hillsong. It was a world that believed homosexuality is a sin and God made gay people straight. After 22 years of struggle he resigned from the ministry and came out. His bestselling autobiography A Life of Unlearning has enabled thousands of LGBT people from Christian backgrounds to find resolution and educated others of

their struggle. He co-founded Freedom2b, to provide support for LGBT people from faith backgrounds. Anthony has been at the forefront of ending ex-gay/conversion therapy in Australia through his media work, writing and social networking activities. In 2013 Anthony founded Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International to create understanding and acceptance for LGBT people and empower community members. He continues to create change through behind the scenes dialogues with Christian leaders, churches and denominations and educational programs.


Arts & Entertainment Award – Beccy Cole + Holding The Man Cast & Crew (joint winners)

Holding The Man Cast & Crew

By bringing the much cherished memoir of Timothy Conigrave to the big screen, the writer, director, producers, cast and crew of this great new Australian film have created an important piece of social history that honours the thousands of people in Australia who have died of an AIDS related illness. The film also champions acceptance and inclusion of LGBTI people and people with HIV, and through its current national release functions as an invaluable instrument of advocacy for advancing LGBTI rights and ending HIV related stigma. Holding The Man was brought to the screen by Goalpost Pictures Australia producer Kylie du Fresne, with director Neil Armfield, screenwriter Tommy Murphy and executive producer Cameron Huang. The film also stars Ryan Corr, Craig Stott. Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Fox, Sarah Snook, Guy Pearce and Camilla Ah Kin.


Beccy Cole

Country songstress Beccy Cole is one of the nation’s best-loved and most celebrated artists. With nine Golden Guitars to her name (including four for Female Vocalist of the Year), as well as multiple ARIA Top 10 Country and Top 40 Mainstream albums, a Top 10 DVD, three gold certified releases, and more than a dozen No. 1 Australian country singles, Beccy Cole is one of Australia’s most successful singer-songwriters. She famously came out on Australian Story in 2012, making her the only out lesbian country music mega star in Australia today. She has subsequently become a great role model for all LGBTI youth in the country and also for women across Australia. She is changing minds, changing opinions, and healing old rifts between parents and siblings of country gay kids who had run away to the city. She is also a strong supporter of organisations such as Mardi Gras, BGF, and Women Say Something in Sydney as well as other LGBTI organisations in her home towns of Adelaide and the Central Coast of NSW.


Community Organisation Award – Dykes On Bikes Sydney

For over 25 years Dykes On Bikes Sydney has provided support and friendship for thousands of lesbians and same sex attracted women in Sydney, has raised money for many LGBTI related charities and causes, and has helped increase awareness of lesbian culture through their internationally famous presence in the annual Sydney Mardi Gras parade. With a motto of ‘Ride With Pride’, the group has a diverse membership and provides a variety of events to reflect those diversities including organised rides, weekends away, bike safety and maintenance days, high teas and hot chocolate rides, and their marquee fund raising events – the Black and White Ball, the Bike and Tattoo Show and a meet and greet for their international and interstate guests prior to every year’s Mardi Gras. Dykes on Bikes Sydney values respect, safety and a proud sense of individual and community identity among its members.


Business Award – Dowson Turco Lawyers

Dowson Turco Lawyers is an out loud and proud law firm run by Stacey Dowson, Mary Turco and Nicholas Stewart. Located in Newtown, the firm practises across the spectrum of law, acting in gay and lesbian relationship law, property and conveyancing, commercial law, criminal law and estate and probate law. The firm is widely known for its advocacy for the LGBTI community, including speaking out on NSW Police Force harassment of community members during Mardi Gras, drug law reform and decriminalisation of drug possession, taking on pro bono matters like the bashing of Alan Rosendale in 1989 by NSW Police officers, acting pro bono for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in respect of corporate sponsorship deals and providing free legal access through community seminars. The firm also donates money to Animals Australia and the Inner City Legal Centre and it sponsors the New Theatre as well as assisting the theatre with governance.