RALEIGH — For more than 10 years, Ian Palmquist has played a strong role in his leadership and service at Equality North Carolina. On July 1, he worked his last day at the organization, heading off for a mid-career jaunt at graduate school. He’ll attend Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government this fall, where he’ll be pursuing a master’s of public administration.
In 2009, qnotes named Palmquist our “Person of the Year.” It was a well-deserved honor stemming from his work in helping to shape Equality North Carolina into one of the most successful and influential state-based LGBT advocacy groups in the country.
When he was a youth, Palmquist said he never could have imagined taking on such an important leadership role at such a young age. A 1999 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Palmquist began his work with the group as a student and volunteer. By the age of 25, Palmquist had worked on the staff for nearly four years and had been recently appointed assistant director. Soon thereafter, the group hired him and Hickory attorney Ed Farthing to serve as co-directors.
Finally, in July 2006, Palmquist was appointed executive director.
Palmquist is a humble one, though. He credits Equality North Carolina’s board leadership and other staff for the group’s growth and stability. His work as executive director, he says, was made easier by the dedication of the group’s boards, his co-workers and Equality North Carolina’s supporters and volunteers.
Equality North Carolina finds itself in transition as its foremost leader, recognized as the “public face” of the group across the state, is leaving. Palmquist, grateful for the opportunity to serve North Carolina’s LGBT communities, says the move is healthy for the group and will allow fresh faces and new ideas to bubble up to the top.
As he departs, the board has placed leadership into the hands of a more-than-capable and determined leader, Palmquist says.
Lobbyist takes the helm
On June 21, the Equality North Carolina Board of Directors announced that Alex Miller, a former lobbyist for the organization, would take on Palmquist’s role as interim executive director.
“I’m really grateful and honored by this opportunity and to take on this responsibility,” Miller told qnotes. “I have very big shoes to fill with Ian — enough can’t possibly be said about him and his work to build this organization into one of the premier statewide groups in the country.”
Miller and Palmquist worked together extensively as Equality North Carolina worked with a coalition of other groups to pass 2009’s School Violence Prevention Act. Miller says he was honored to be a part of that campaign.
“That was definitely one of the highlights of my political career so far,” he said.
Miller has a long history of experience at the legislature. After working on the passage of the School Violence Prevention Act and as Equality North Carolina’s primary lobbyist, Miller went on to successfully manage a close campaign that resulted in reelection for Cumberland County Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier, a steadfast pro-LGBT advocate in the state House. Miller has also worked with a number of other legislators, both Republican and Democratic. Those bipartisan relationships, he says, will prove necessary components in the fight to defeat a proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.
“I have a lot of experience and relationships there [at the legislature] that I think will be beneficial as we strategize and it comes to looking at specific targets for field work,” Miller said.
Miller’s primary task will be helping the organization prepare for that amendment battle. He says it’s an unfortunate reality that carries real benefits.
“If there is any benefit to the introduction of these bills it’s that Equality North Carolina is well in the position to help lead and shape these issues at a crucial time,” he said. “This is a conversation that we need to have and will be introduced to some folks who may be engaged for the first time in having a real conversation or real enlightenment around issues of equality. It’s an opportunity to involve all North Carolinians — LGBT and straight allies and folks who have never had to come to grips with these questions.”
Ultimately, Miller hopes he’ll have a chance to shape history in the state.
“This is a question of what side of history we’ll be on,” he said.
Miller, who is straight, doesn’t think he’ll hear any concerns about his sexual orientation. In fact, he says his identity will prove “wholly irrelevant” to his work at Equality North Carolina.
“I haven’t heard any concerns directed at me and I think those concerns will be fairly minimal,” he said. “The goals of this organization are not about securing rights only for some but securing equal rights for everyone. I don’t think it takes any type of person to do that other than someone who is qualified and committed.”
Miller, a former infantry squad leader in the U.S. Army, lives in Chapel Hill with his wife and two children. He’s a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and received his master’s of social work from the University of North Carolina in 2007.
The search for a permanent executive director is currently underway by Equality North Carolina’s board of directors. A decision is expected within the next several months. For more information about the position, its description and job requirements, visit equalitync.org/jobs. : :