Marriage heroes lead Tulsa’s Equality Gala

Rachel Tudor and Kirk Holt are two of this year's award winners. Photos provided.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

(Tulsa) - Tulsa’s Oklahomans for Equality throws a giant, mega-fun fundraising Equality Gala every Spring. This year is no exception. The Equality Gala will be Saturday, April 30 at the Cox Business Center. Sharon and Mary Bishop-Baldwin, the heroes of Oklahoma’s fight for marriage equality, are the Chairs of this year’s event, and they are super excited about it.

Sharon Bishop-Baldwin said, “The theme this year is ‘The Revolution Continues…’ What we want to focus on is that, yes, we have this great victory in marriage equality, but that’s not the end of the road. There are so many challenges ahead. We want to keep the troops challenged and ready for the fight.

“You can still be fired, you can be refused a mortgage, and if you are being harassed, that’s not a hate crime,” Sharon offered as a few of the many reasons that the fight for LGBTQ equality is not over. “We need to keep up the energy and the fight, and the fundraising.”

Mary Bishop-Baldwin said, “The money raised by the Gala goes to supporting the Equality Center for service to our people – service to people who have great needs.”

The event features a Happy Hour, beginning at 6:30 p.m., and continues with a silent auction, a live auction, a great dinner, an awards presentation and entertainment.

Entertainment this year is by Will & Anthony. They are a Brooklyn-born, classically trained singing and comedy brother duo who sing fresh takes of timeless songs from Pop, Adult contemporary music, Broadway, Italy and beyond.

The live auction, always a fun event, includes dinners prepared in private homes, vacation destination items, jewelry and more. “We also have a silent auction,” said Sharon. “In the past we had as many as 200 items. We are backing off on the quantity, but try to have really nice silent auction items that cover a range of interesting activities.

An important part of the Equality Gala every year is its award presentations.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is being given to Kirk Holt. With more than a decade of leadership in the organization and more than 30 years of support and involvement, Kirk has served the LGBTQ community of northeastern Oklahoma well. Kirk was the lead designer on the renovations and remodel of the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, and is the Chair of the Center’s new capital campaign committee.

A new award, the Bishop-Baldwin, Barton & Phillips Civil Rights Advocacy Award is being introduced this year. “OkEq wanted to create an award in our honor with the intention of honoring people in the future who take an interest in civil rights,” said Sharon.

The inaugural award goes to Rachel Tudor. Tudor, who is transgender, is a former Professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant. “She transitioned during her time there. The University fired her for that,” said Sharon. The U.S. Justice Department is suing Southeastern State, charging that school officials discriminated against Professor Tudor.

The Corporate Inclusion Award goes to Paula Marshall and Bama Companies. In 2015, Bama Companies added gender identity and gender expression to their nondiscrimination policy and begin to provide transgender health benefits in their employee compensation package.

The Presbyterian minister Rev. Todd Freeman is the recipient of The Russell Bennett Spiritual Inclusion Award. As part of discussions over the role of LGBT person in the church, Rev. Freeman publically announced that he is gay.

Chris Shoaf has advocated for new educational standards for Oklahoma’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS education policy, and is the winner of the Community Hero Award.

Marley Groves started the Gay Straight Alliance at McAlester High School with very little support from school administrators. She wins the Carolyn Wagner Youth Leadership Award. Megan Sayler serves as co-president her school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and shares the award with Marley.

The Gala is supported by dozens of sponsors, led by Ruby sponsors, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The two foundations, in addition to their high-level sponsorships, are “Cheerleader sponsors,” says Sharon. “They encourage others to step up and support the organization.”

Mary says the Gala, “gives people an opportunity to support OkEq and the work of the Equality Center throughout the year. We really do want to make it affordable for as many people as possible. I think it’s going to be a great event.”

Sponsorships and individual tickets are available online at click on “Events,” click on “Equality Gala,” and then click on the Sponsor level you desire, or at the bottom of the page, the “Gala Seat” button. The Gala is Saturday, April 30, 6:30 p.m., at the Cox Business Center, Third St. and Houston Ave. in downtown Tulsa.


The Gayly- 4/13/2016 @ 10:05 AM CDT