Monday, October 12, 2009

Ten Years: Working With You For Change

By Ian Palmquist

Ten years ago today, something happened that changed my life in ways I couldn't have imagined then: I started my first day of work at Equality NC.

I'd graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill that May and had been looking for a way to get into LGBT movement work. I was sure that was going to mean leaving North Carolina and heading off to New York, DC, or maybe San Francisco.

Happily, Equality NC's then-Executive Director, MK Cullen, asked me to come on staff. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about it. It was the first time Equality NC was hiring a permanent second staff person. Plus, I was leaving my $11 per hour full-time job at UNC Student Stores for an $8 per hour half-time job.

My parents thought I was crazy. But I knew that chances to do paid movement work right here in my home state were few and far between, and leaped at the chance.

I've never regretted it.

At lunch today, a former intern of ours asked me what my favorite thing about working for Equality NC was. I thought a minute, and realized that the answer was clear.

The thing that his given me the most joy these ten years has been the chance to work with amazing leaders across the state and the nation who are fighting to make all of our lives better:
  • Incredible volunteers who work tirelessly to win local policy victories or collect hundreds of postcards to legisaltors in conservative areas;
  • Dedicated board members who work to realize a vision of what Equality NC could become;
  • Amazing coalition partners who time and again stand up to insist that the LGBT community be included and protected;
  • Hard-working colleagues at other Equality Federation organizations who have made me a better leader, and our movement more effective; and
  • Talented co-workers and interns who pour their heart and soul into
    improving the lives of LGBT people in our state.
MK, and her successor Jo Wyrick, taught me so much about politics, grassroots organizing, and running a non-profit as I became the Assistant Director. Ed Farthing stuck with me as Co-Executive Director through some tough financial times and encouraged me to keep fighting because the work we were doing was so important.

Now Kay Flaminio, Shawn Long, and Rebecca Mann make coming to work as Executive Director these last three years something to look forward to, and have made our recent successes possible.

Ten years is a long time, and sometimes people ask my why I've stayed at Equality NC. I've been recruited a couple times to work for national organizations, but when I thought about it I realized that I could have the greatest impact working right here with you.

I truly believe that the most important work we can do to win full equality nationwide is to fight the fight in the states. The federal work is unquestionably important, too. But no amount of lobbying in DC will make a difference if our community isn't on the ground in local communities building public support for equal rights, passing local and state policies, and creating a climate for change.

That's why I'm so proud to work with Equality NC. Thanks to the amazing hard work of everyone that makes up this organization, we have achieved things no one thought were possible.

Here in our proudly Southern state, no bill that would diminish the rights of our community has passed since 1996, while our neighbors have seen attacks on our families enshrined into their state constituions.

Instead, we've increased protections for same-sex couples by ensuring basic hospital visitation rights. We've made life safer for our young people by making sure schools address bullying and harrassment. We've protected the lives and health of people by securing comprehensive sex education in public schools, increased funding for HIV prevention programs, and expanded access to HIV/AIDS drugs for low-income North Carolinians.

Most importantly, we've made our voices heard and laid a foundation that will, in time, allow us to build a state of equality.

I'm so proud of what we've done together. But I'm even more excited about what we can achieve going forward.

Thanks for being a part of my journey this past decade. I'm counting on you to stick with us as we keep moving forward together.

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