RALEIGH — It was anti-gay, Gaston County Sen. Jim Forrester (R) who first called Equality North Carolina and its team “lavender lobbyists.” Forrester meant it as a jab; little did he know that LGBT journalists, bloggers and activists would later claim the phrase as their own.
For nearly a decade, conservative legislators like Forrester have led a relentless push to further institutionalize discrimination against LGBT North Carolinians by passing a constitutional amendment banning recognition of all same-sex relationships. It’s often called a “marriage amendment,” but the legislation very possibly could extend much further.
Ian Palmquist, Equality North Carolina’s executive director, says he’s proud of his organization’s ability to block the amendment, though such a victories with their own perils.
“I don’t want anyone to underestimate the threat,” Palmquist tells qnotes. “I think the fact that we’ve been able to stop this constitutional amendment for the last seven years may have some people feeling complacent, but the fact is that there is a very, very real threat of this going on the ballot in 2012.”
He adds, “We have to do everything we can this year as a community to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
At press time, the North Carolina General Assembly had been in session for a three weeks. At the end of their third week, legislators had yet to file any anti-LGBT measure. (As of Feb. 17, Forrester was planning on filing an amendment.) Palmquist cautions that such legislation could come at any moment.
“We absolutely expect that there will be an attempt to move the constitutional amendment to the ballot sometime in this legislative session,” he says, “and we’re doing everything we can to be ready for it whether it is tomorrow or in June or even in 2012.”
As previously reported by qnotes, Equality North Carolina has ramped up its efforts to reach out to legislators across party lines. Palmquist says his group has made inroads with some Republican legislators as they continue years-long conversations with Democrats.
“We’re doing everything we can to reach Republican legislators and opinion leaders to get them on our side and to make sure our messages are getting through,” Palmquist says, though declining to name specific legislators with whom his group had been in touch.
Palmquist’s group is also expanding. In mid-February they hired a new communications director — the first time the group has employed a staff member specifically tasked with communications responsibilities. Jenn Jones, a former communications and marketing project manager at UNC TV, will fill the role, giving Palmquist and Equality North Carolina’s lobbyist, Dean Plukett, more time to focus on legislative efforts.
Some of Jones’ new responsibilities will include social media outreach. Palmquist hopes it will increase awareness of his organization’s mission in Raleigh.
“So much attention in the media goes to what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and its easy for people to miss that a lot of the decisions that effect their lives the most are made at the state level,” he says.
As Palmquist continues his advocacy at the General Assembly, he says he’ll keep reminding GOP legislators of the priorities voters had in mind when they shifted legislative power from the Democrats.
“We are encouraging legislators to focus on the issues that the voters were interested in in November and that was about jobs and the economy and the role of state government,” he says. “It was not about social issues.” : :
What they do
As confusing as statewide and local politics can often be, you can know one thing for certain: There is an LGBT advocacy organization working for our community’s benefit in Raleigh.
Equality North Carolina works to to keep our issues on the forefront of the social agenda and works to protect our issues when such agendas turn negative.
“Equality North Carolina’s role is to be an advocate at the state level so that we have a consistent, professional lobbying presence at the General Assembly advocating for fairness,” says Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist.