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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ian Thomas Palmquist, June 27, 2001. Interview K-0848. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

First act of protest for tolerance

Palmquist describes his first act of protest while a high school student in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1994, Palmquist explains that students at his school had posted anti-gay propaganda. Palmquist, who was just beginning the process of coming out at that time, joined with several friends to plaster the school with posters promoting tolerance. Here, he describes the school and community reaction to this event.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ian Thomas Palmquist, June 27, 2001. Interview K-0848. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I went all the way through High School here in Raleigh. I went to Enloe High School, which is where I got my start in gay activism and from there I went over to Chapel Hill to go to college at UNC.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You mentioned earlier that you were involved in some gay activism early on. Even to start out earlier, when did you realize that you were gay, and that whole thing.
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
Sure, I really came out to myself during my junior year of High School, right after I had told someone for the first time, in a completely unrelated incident, these ant-gay posters went up all over our school. This incident occurred literally the next day.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So where did you go to High School at again?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
Enloe High School in Raleigh. So six of my friends and I did a response to the posters. We did a parity of the poster and then a few essays on why you should be nice to gay people basically.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
[Laughter] What were the reasons?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
General tolerance kind of stuff, pretty generic. I was not even really out to more than a couple of people while I was doing this, andߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Were any of these other folks gay or lesbian?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
One of the six was openly gay at the time. I was closeted and the other four are straight.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Were they male or female?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
There was one female and the rest were male. I had a really supportive group of friends at that point. So we distributed this response and kind of figured that we had done our good deed and that was the end of it. Until we got suspended for distributing itߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
For distributing the parodyߞ?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
For distributing, yeah, the response to the posters. For that we got suspended for three days.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
What were the ramifications for the people who put these posters up?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
They ended up getting suspended too, after we had done our response. Before that, the administration had not done anything until after we responded.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
What did these posters say?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
Something like, it was a called, "A Call to Arms" and it said something like, "Attention all heterosexual students of Enloe! It has come to our attention that there are faggots and dykes in our midst. Tell these sexually immoral people that you don't want them displaying their perversion in public." Something like that.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Did it have a Christian flair at all?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
Not really, it was obviously pretty bigoted, but there was not any specific religious overtone to it. I don't know the guys who did the posters, so I don't know what their background is.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So you never found out who they were?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
I knew the names of them, but Enloe is a school of 2000 people and I never actually never met them.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So it was almost like a small campus.
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
Yeah, yeah it was bigger than a lot of colleges. [Laughter] So we did our response and we got suspended and, naturally, we decided to fight it and went through several levels of appeals through the school, the ACLU of North Carolina got involved, we had a lawyer working with us, we had everything drawn up to file in federal court to block our suspensions when we finally got the school board to overturn the principal's decision. But it was an interesting experience for me because I was gradually coming out to my friends during this whole process, while at the same time, I had the media focussing on gay rights and free speech at Enloe High School.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
What exact year was this?
IAN THOMAS PALMQUIST:
That was the spring of 1994.