"There's still so much to do." Nominations for this year's Community Hero award are now open.
Samuel Leighton-Dore

11 Jul 2018 - 9:30 AM  UPDATED 11 Jul 2018 - 9:30 AM

For those in the trenches of the 'Yes' campaign during last year's same-sex marriage postal survey, the smiling determination of Elaine Czulkowski was a source of both comfort and grit.

The UK-born fundraising manager was a force behind many of the Equality Campaign's face-to-face initiatives, working for close to two years on the engagement and mobilisation of communities throughout Australia.

Czulkowski, who was named Community Hero at ACON's Honour Awards last year, reflects on the period and struggles to remember exactly what it was like.

"There was so much happening and much of it was out of our control," she recalls.

"You're reacting to media and politicians and other groups, every day you woke up thinking 'whats going to happen today?'"

She remembers setting up the Alfred Park 'live results' event in Sydney, wondering whether anyone would show up.

"We wanted to make it a big celebration, because we were quite hopeful, but at the same time we wanted people to get together just in case the vote didn't go the way we thought," she tells SBS Sexuality.

"I was there from about 4.30am and thought 'what if nobody turns up?'”

She continues: "I mean, we had John Paul Young singing 'Love is in the Air' and at 8.30 am there were only a handful of people. But then at 9.30am the park was just packed.

"I'm getting goosebumps now just thinking about it."

It wasn't until the day after the vote went through in Canberra that Czulkowski finally paused for breath.

"The very next day the campaign team travelled back to Sydney and at lunchtime we kind of said goodbye to each other," she says.

"Waking up that Saturday morning, for the first time in 8 or 9 years i didn’t have anything to do, I didn't have to call Alex [Greenwich] with a campaign update — I thought, what do people do all day? I didn’t do anything, it was all a bit weird."

Then, of course, it was time to get back to work.

"There's still so much to do," she says.

"I’m still part of Out for Australia which is going from strength to strength. There's lots to do there for young people transitioning from University into the workplace, which ties in with my work at ACON around inclusivity in the workplace."

Czulkowski continues: "Getting young people to be comfortable in University and comfortable in the workplace - and safe."

"Improving inclusivity for trans and gender diverse people in the workplace and focusing on cultural intersectionality — and also for LGBTI women," she adds, citing the "double glass ceiling" and a lack of LGBTIQ+ women in leadership positions.

With her reign coming to an end, Czulkowski is encouraging members of the LGBTIQ+ community to nominate their local heroes for this year's award.

Established in 2007, the Honour Awards is an annual event that celebrates outstanding service to, and achievements within, the LGBTI community in NSW and Australia - raising important funds for LGBTI community initiatives delivered by ACON.

Nominations are open until Sunday August 12th and can be submitted in nine categories covering HIV, health, education, business, community, cultural, legal, media, and political sectors.

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The advisory group will provide strategic advice on specific health issues relating to the trans and gender diverse community.

A judging panel of community peers will then select four finalists in each category with the winner announced on the night of the awards, to be held on Wednesday October 3rd at the Ivy Ballroom in Sydney.

ACON President Dr Justin Koonin said in a statement that the Honour Awards are about celebrating “people and organisations from right across our community".

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“Because of experiences or fear of discrimination, exclusion and prejudice, many LGBTI people do not access necessary health or wellbeing services, further contributing to negative outcomes,” says Matt Janssen, Associate Director of Pride in Health + Wellbeing.

He continued: “As a community, it’s important that we celebrate our unsung heroes as well as our more high-profile achievers. So we’re keen to hear about people and organisations that have made a difference whether it be in the lives of only a few people, or whose contributions are more wide-ranging."

"To have community nominating and celebrating community is what the Honour Awards is all about.”

You can nominate your 2018 Community Hero here.

You can watch Elaine speak about her role in the 'Yes' campaign below: