Ginnie Graham: Community advocate Nancy McDonald sees time catch up to her activism
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
10/24/12 at 11:56 AM
Audio: Listen to Nancy McDonald interview with Voices of Oklahoma.
Original Print Headline: Community advocate sees time catch up to her activism
During the next four decades, she ruffled people, shaped ideas and brought about change by speaking out for gay rights and public education.
The 76-year-old's latest endeavor has been at Jackson Elementary School for her Unitarian Church - finding mentors for children to help them read or just have a lunch buddy.
"I always start a program with a mission," McDonald said. "In any project I've done, I want it to be in manageable pieces. Even though I cannot see the big picture, I can break it down and tackle some part of it."
Driving force: McDonald has an infectious, indefatigable spirit, as evidenced in Tulsa World archive stories dating to the early '70s.
She was among a group of parents and educators working to integrate schools without a court order for busing.
The magnet programs came from her push to gather input from all groups, a novel idea at that time.
As the district's volunteer coordinator, McDonald created the Adopt-a-School program.
Although volunteers are the norm today, with some schools begging for more, this was not always so.
"I remember an elementary school with a sign on the door that said, 'No parents allowed,' " McDonald said. "Can you imagine that now? We had to demonstrate that volunteers can enhance education and parental engagement leads to more community resources."
Helping, not hiding: McDonald's next undertaking came in 1987, when her daughter came out as a lesbian.
"She struggled in high school, and I always knew, but didn't have the words to explain it," she said.
When McDonald contacted Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, officials said the group's nearest contact was in Denver.
Tulsa's public library had no collection related to gays, lesbians or sexual identity. A local bookstore hid such books behind the counter.
Even the first newspaper story about McDonald's starting a support group shielded her name at the insistence of an editor, who believed that she could not withstand the backlash.
That still rankles her to this day.
"From the beginning, Joe (her husband) and I said we were not going to hide," McDonald said. "We're not ashamed of our daughter. She has done nothing wrong but be honest about herself. She's great, and she's gay."
McDonald became a strong voice for Oklahoma's gay and lesbian community.
She pounces on political candidates using gay and lesbian slurs in negative ad campaigns and is among the first to criticize prejudices displayed by institutions and their leaders.
Through the years, McDonald has received numerous awards - from being named the 1978 Citizen of the Year by the Southland Civitan Club to receiving this year's Pathfinder Award from the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa.
She is moving slower now, pointing to problems with a hip replacement a few years ago.
But that didn't stop her from walking into a business recently and securing an adoption of Jackson Elementary School.
"I have a love affair with TPS and the kids," McDonald said. "These are sweet kids. When you see them, you think about what the future holds for them."
In early news stories, McDonald was referred to as "housewife," with mentions of her physician husband and their four children.
Now, she's a "community volunteer," an "advocate" and an "activist."
McDonald stands out on her own merit, a woman who grew into her own time.
Nancy McDonald, president of the local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, speaks at Tulsa's Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in 2009 about the passage of the Matthew Shepherd & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Tulsa World file