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ADA – Mary Bishop is pleased to see how far East Central University has come in regards to the acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

Bishop, an ECU graduate and former instructor in the university’s department of mass communication, is glad that a Gay-Straight Alliance is active on campus as she and her partner, Sharon Baldwin, served as guest speakers at a recent GSA event on the ECU campus.

“I’m glad ECU has a Gay-Straight Alliance. They did not have that here while I was a student or faculty member,” Bishop said. “Gay students felt like they were all alone. Now a student organization, such as this, gives students a legitimate connection and a place to be safe.”

Bishop remembers overhearing students make anti-gay remarks in classes as a student.

“At that time you didn’t feel like it would be possible to be out in the open,” said Bishop.

Bishop, who came to ECU from McLish High School, says she did have accepting friends during her stay, especially within the United Campus Ministry.

“As a faculty member, I had a couple of friends who were open and accepting of gays,” she said. “I had a fear of losing my job (over the lifestyle), but I’m glad society is changing and being ‘out’ is possible.”

After earning her degree in mass communication from ECU in 1983, Bishop obtained a master’s degree in mass communication from Arkansas State and began her teaching career in higher education at ECU in 1986. She taught at ECU until 1995 when she moved on to the Tulsa World and currently serves as an editor with that publication.

That is where she met Baldwin, who is also with the Tulsa World as a city slot editor. Baldwin is from Tulsa, attended Central High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma in 1992 and started with the newspaper in 1993.

The pair went through a commitment ceremony in 2000 in Florida.

Bishop and Baldwin, along with another lesbian couple, are the plaintiffs in a long, ongoing nine-year lawsuit, challenging discrimination in state and federal law regarding LGBT partners.

Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a state question banning same-sex marriage in 2004. The next day, the two couples filed a challenge in federal court in Tulsa. Since then there has been little movement in the suit.

The primary question in this Oklahoma lawsuit is: Does the state ban on gay marriage violate the U.S. Constitution? U.S. District Judge Terence Kern has that question before him but has yet to answer.

At the GSA event at ECU, Bishop and Baldwin discussed the challenges they’ve had to face as a couple and talked about details of the lawsuit. One of their major concerns is being allowed to obtain the same benefits and have the same opportunities.

Being able to visit one another in the hospital and making critical medical decisions for another is important to them as well through this challenge as other concerns for LGBT couples such as adoption, child custody or even probate matters through the courts if one or the other partner dies.

“The rights of the minority should never be left up to the vote of the majority,” Baldwin said. “Rights can be taken away at any time. I’m not asking your minister to marry us and that you support our marriage. We just want the same rights.”

Zachariah Champagne, president of ECU’s Gay-Straight Alliance, believes the GSA serves a significant purpose on campus.

“The GSA is having a place to belong and a place to feel accepted,” said Champagne.

He has seen a more positive image of the group since being elected as president in 2011.

“I feel like we’re concentrating on leadership and creating an image on campus. The GSA has participated in several fundraisers and hosted several events,” he said. “We’ve had one major event each semester and we’ve been trying to get the group more active.”

A group started by Rich Alford, called Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), was on the ECU campus in the 1990s and it was renamed the Gay-Straight Alliance in the fall of 2001, according to Dr. Christine Pappas, sponsor for the GSA.


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