They've been doing it for as long as they've been a couple. Every Saturday morning for almost 15 years, Ron Sperry and his partner Scott Bishop make the 15-minute drive from their Plaza Midwood home to Einstein's Bagels on South Boulevard. Today happens to be a particularly dreary Saturday, rainy and damp. The puddles in the parking lot are widening. It doesn't stop them. The ritual, says Sperry, "gives us some time to sit together and plan our day, think about what we need to get done for the weekend."
In between chewing and conversation, Sperry and Bishop wave to friends and nod to other regulars stopping in for a quick nosh. Sperry, 45, admits their friends mock them for the weekly bagel-shop breakfast. It started when the two first lived together in a townhouse just around the corner and could walk to Einstein's, and continues even though they now live in a different neighborhood. The only other part of the routine that's changed, at least for today, is Sperry's order. He brings a yogurt parfait to the table and explains that heavy carbs won't work this week. "It's not a vanity thing," he protests. "It's an economic thing. I don't want to have to buy a new suit size!"
Sperry is counting down to the end of the month when Bishop, also 45, will be honored as North Carolina Volunteer of the Year at the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala, held Feb. 25 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The HRC fights for the civil rights of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (LBGT) community. Bishop got involved after writing a $35 check to the cause years ago. "After I sent the money, they kept calling me asking for more, to the point where it was just annoying," Bishop says. "Then a friend dragged me to their annual gala where I watched this emotional video about what they do to further equality, and well, I got it."
Bishop got it to the point that he felt he had to get involved somehow. He went to a monthly meeting and says he was horrified at how disorganized the organizing committee was. That annoyed him even more. "I went to see where I could fit in and quickly realized that's where they needed me. I'm a project manager by nature, so I knew I could bring some sort of organization," he says.
Robert Dogens was impressed with Bishop. "Anything he does, he does 120 percent," says Dogens, who serves on the North Carolina Governors Board for HRC. "Scott was c osen to be honored because of all the work he did last year as it relates to the marriage amendment. He mobilized the business community to speak out."
By all accounts, Bishop is focused, confident and quiet in his leadership style. For six months last year, he worked full time convincing more than 300 small businesses across the state to sign a petition against putting the marriage amendment on the ballot. The amendment would literally rewrite the North Carolina Constitution to prohibit civil unions, make it illegal to recognize gay marriage (which is actually already illegal in the Tarheel state), and strip away domestic partnership benefits that government employees currently receive. (Mecklenburg County has offered domestic partnership benefits to its employees since 2009; the city of Charlotte still does not.) Bishop also serves on a small committee working to get Charlotte to pony up to its employees in domestic partnerships.
While Bishop and a team of volunteers managed to garner much support against the amendment — even Gov. Bev Purdue was against it — the Republican-controlled legislature last September voted to put the issue on the upcoming May primary ballot when they assumed mostly conservatives would turn up at the polls. Turns out, Democrats will now be there, too, since Perdue announced she will not seek re-election. (A sitting governor running for re-election would almost certainly have meant there would be no need for a Democratic primary.)
The amendment, says Dogens, "bothers me because I don't think you should ever put the rights of a minority up for a popular vote." He is worried that the amendment might pass, pointing out that 34 states already have passed similar anti-gay marriage legislation and North Carolina is the lone Southern holdout. A 2006 Arizona ballot referendum is the only time the gay-marriage issue failed after going to voters.
Bishop had the time to dedicate to the fight after Bank of America unexpectedly pink-slipped him in February 2010. "He was the busiest unemployed person I've ever seen," says Sperry, who, as an interior designer, admits it was weird to suddenly be the "stable" one in the house. The two had been saving money to start a business but decided together that Bishop would instead dedicate himself to fighting the marriage amendment. They made the decision, like most things in their relationship, together.