NC Bar Association under fire over cancellation of drag trivia night

CHARLOTTE — The N.C. Bar Association is under fire after the president of the association made the decision to cancel a committee’s planned drag trivia night. The association’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee was planning the nonmandatory social event for next month at Motorco Music Hall in Durham.

On May 5, NCBA President Clayton Morgan emailed the committee to say he was canceling the June 8 event. The email did not say why. On May 8, Morgan joined the committee’s meeting and said he was canceling the event over worries about how the General Assembly might feel about it. He said the association will not “steer into contested politics.”

“Political viewpoints will be inferred by the General Assembly,” Morgan told committee members, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Channel 9. “Given the nature of how drag shows are being used and portrayed, it is likely that our Bar Association-backed legislative agenda will be negatively affected. If that occurs, then our association’s agenda will be compromised for this year, maybe next.”

WFAE also obtained a recording of the meeting and reported on the event’s cancellation.

Charlotte attorney Michael Roessler resigned from the North Carolina Bar Association over the forced cancellation. Roessler says no evidence was presented to show the General Assembly cared about the nonmandatory social event.

“The Bar Association made a promise to LGTBQ people. It promised to stand for full equality,” he said. “They have showed us they will cave on the small things, and we have absolutely no reason to believe they will stand with us on the big things.”

The president also suggested the LGBTQ committee hold events that present opposing viewpoints.

“You could have a forum discussion where you present both sides, like we typically like to do,” Morgan told committee members. “Both sides and neutral moderator, get the issues out there that way you are not perceived as trying to advance your agenda on the world.”

Roessler says that suggestion was hurtful.

“We, as queer attorneys, are not interested in having a conversation about both sides of our equality,” he said. “To suggest that we should explore both sides of these questions is akin to asking the physics department at Chapel Hill to debate with The Flat Earth Society. There are not two sides to this question. There is right, there is wrong.”

Attorney Candelario Saldana says the Pauli Murray LGBTQ Bar Association will hold the drag trivia event since the NCBA will not.

“The goal is to make a statement that we will not be silenced, that the LGBTQ voices will not be silenced anymore,” Saldana said.

Last month, 28 House Republicans backed a bill that would have defined “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest” as adult live entertainment. The bill says it is unlawful for a person to engage in adult live entertainment on public property or in a location where someone under the age of 18 would see it. The bill was never heard in committee and did not advance during the crossover period.

A spokesperson for the N.C. Bar Association provided Channel 9 with a statement defending the event’s cancellation. A spokesperson for Equality North Carolina criticized the decision.

Statement from the N.C. Bar Association:

“The North Carolina Bar Association, as defined in its diversity statement, “is an inclusive organization committed to recognizing, respecting, promoting and encouraging diversity among its leadership, its membership and the entire legal community.” The NCBA is committed to reckoning with its history, including decades of racial discrimination beginning with its founding, and strives to build a better today and tomorrow for the citizens of this state through the advancement of diversity and inclusion within the profession. The NCBA is a leader among bar associations in the United States in its recognition of the past and dedication to this mission.

To that end, several efforts have begun within the NCBA in recent years, including the establishment of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, or SOGI for short. The stated objectives of the SOGI Committee include:

  • Working to oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression;
  • Promoting the expertise and advancement of LGBTQIA+ legal professionals; and
  • Serving the larger LGBTQIA+ community through providing legal education, resources, and information to the legal community and the public.

The North Carolina Bar Association is a non-partisan organization and our membership is a reflection of the population of our state and the diversity of the legal profession. The NCBA is focused on building consensus, awareness and understanding within its membership to advance the initiatives that can have the broadest possible support of, and benefit for, the profession and the public. Accordingly, the NCBA does not endorse political candidates, routinely assume positions in politically charged debates, or present programs and events through which divisive political statements may be expressed or implied.

The leadership of the NCBA determined that the SOGI Committee drag show event that was being planned for June 8 would most likely be interpreted as a political statement on behalf of the NCBA by many within the organization, the profession, and the state, which would serve to impair the effectiveness of the NCBA with regard to many of its initiatives, including the important discussions and work that need to happen with respect to LGBTQIA+ issues. It is for these reasons that planning for the event was stopped. In reaching this difficult decision, NCBA leadership recognized that the decision may disappoint and hurt members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies, though this was not the purpose of the decision.

The North Carolina Bar Association is a better and stronger organization because of the establishment of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee. The SOGI Committee and the NCBA have the ability to make significant strides by bringing people together in a way that promotes and effectuates meaningful change with respect to issues of discrimination and inequality. We remain committed to continuing our support of, and participation in, this important work moving forward.

Statement from Equality NC:

“Last week, news broke that the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) had canceled a preexisting drag event to celebrate pride month, scheduled within the organization’s committee on Sexuality and Gender Identity. This cancellation has widely been interpreted as a response to potential pressure from conservative lawmakers.

“The cancellation of this event is wrong and cowardly. In the past few years, we’ve seen escalating attacks on the LGBTQ+ community from our opposition, seeking to marginalize us. These attacks are nothing new. For decades, extremists have used harmful rhetoric to attack LGBTQ+ people and build their own power at the expense of others. And in times like these, we need our allies to take a stand for our community – not cave to extremist demands.

“Kendra R. Johnson (she/her/ella), ENC Executive Director, said: ‘Equality NC is deeply disappointed to see this action by the NC Bar Association. We all have a right to express ourselves, no matter our race, gender, or who we are. Banning drag performances is censorship. Equality NC firmly supports LGBTQ+ lawyers and criticizes this terrible decision.’”

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