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November 30, 2012

Equality Ohio names Elyzabeth Holford as new executive director

Columbus--Equality Ohio has selected its fourth executive director, naming Elyzabeth Joy Holford to the post as of November 26.

While she has already assumed the mantle, she is telecommuting until December 3, when she will be in the office.

The top post at the statewide LGBT equality organization was vacated in June when Ed Mullen resigned after a Pride Day incident. From its founding in 2005, the group was helmed for four years by Lynne Bowman, then by Sue Doerfer, then Mullen.

Holford’s appointment was announced by the Equality Ohio boards on November 13, after a national search.

The new director comes with a long resumé. She started her professional life over 20 years ago as a trial attorney in Columbus before heading to Virginia Tech in the 1990s. There, she taught, directed the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and was also in charge of two campuses.

“For the last ten years, I’ve been doing organizational development consulting, mostly international, but also in the United States,” she said. “I’ve lived in Ohio before, and I’m excited to be returning.”

Holford believes she brings a lot to the table as the new executive director. While she did not mention it, she has a sparkling personality that is likely to endear her to the LGBT community and its allies, although she picked out specific qualities that she thinks will help with the job at hand.

“I have the ability to put together a strategy and a vision and, at the same time, I’m very detail-oriented. I drill down into things and make sure they’re being done well, in the best way possible,” she said.

Holford also explained why she wanted to come back to Ohio to head the organization.

“I’m really impressed with organizations that stay true to how they started, and I believe that Equality Ohio started as a bipartisan effort. A bipartisan, ally-based effort. There is a real feeling across the state of working together and moving forward together,” she said.

Holford came to her interview prepared, having researched the issues facing LGBT Ohioans. That engendered her first priority when she gets into the group’s Columbus office on Monday morning.

“To be really honest, it’s assessing the best ways that we can move forward together. That is the top priority. Certainly within the organization, but also assessing our allies and our relationship with our allies, in everything we do we take steps forward in a collaborative and coordinated way, across the state, across parties, across organizations,” she said. “It’s not a step forward if you don’t take it together, and we will find a way to do that.”

After her work as an attorney in Ohio, she started as an assistant, then an associate, professor at Virginia Tech. The school started as an all-male college, and did not allow women in until the 1960s.

“When the president asked me to step into the [equal opportunity] role, a lot of people had lost faith in the office in general, and it was a time when equal opportunity and affirmative action were on the firing line,” she recalled. “The then-governor of Virginia was encouraging university chairs to take sexual orientation out of EEOO policies.”

Virginia Tech resisted those efforts, however, and Holford continued educating the educators in how to enact and enforce policies that protected everyone.

She concluded by noting, “I am very ready to do this work. It feels like the right time for me personally, and professionally, it very much feels like the right thing.”

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