Credit: Photo from Unsplash

NC Bar Association President Clayton Morgan hopped on the conservative bandwagon this week when he canceled a drag trivia event set for June 8.

In a meeting with members of the association’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee (SOGI)—which had planned the event—Morgan admitted outright that his cancellation of the event was political. Holding the event would negatively impact the association’s legislative agenda with the Republican-dominated General Assembly, he said (per reporting from Charlotte’s channel 9 ABC affiliate station WSOC-TV).

Morgan went on to say that the NC Bar Association (NCBA) shouldn’t “steer into contested politics,” and the committee was welcome to hold events that “present both sides” of the argument over gay rights, discussing the issues in a way where “you are not perceived as trying to advance your agenda on the world.”

Queer lawyers and members of the NCBA were, rightfully, horrified by Morgan’s statements, which support the unfounded Republican argument that drag shows are sexual in nature and inappropriate for the public. Two members of the NCBA have already resigned, including Michael Roessler, a Charlotte attorney who served on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee.

Jonathan Melton, a Raleigh attorney and one of the first openly gay people to serve on the Raleigh City Council, says he also plans to leave the organization if they don’t take steps to “fix” their decision.

“I hope they’ll see how this decision is wrong and fix it. If not, I won’t remain part of an organization that treats a portion of its membership this way,” he says.

But, Melton added, “the unfortunate reality is the NCBA puts on most of the continuing legal education seminars we need to maintain our law licenses.” Membership in the association is a critical credential for many North Carolina lawyers, who may be reluctant to resign over this issue.

The NCBA has yet to reverse course on its cancellation of the drag event or issue an apology. In fact, the association recently released a statement defending the decision, which claims the NCBA supports diversity and inclusion.

The statement went on to cite the 2021 creation of the SOGI Committee, the very committee whose work they overturned. Morgan’s decision to cancel the drag event sends a strong signal that any proposals by the committee to oppose discrimination—or serve LGBTQ+ lawyers and the larger community—will be ignored.

Attacks on local drag shows and events like Drag Queen Story Hour (where drag queens read books aloud to audiences in libraries and other public spaces) have increased in recent years.

Across the state, dozens of drag events have been canceled under pressure from Republican legislators, hampering efforts by the LGBTQ+ community to normalize drag and give people queer role models to look up to. A bill introduced by Republican lawmakers last month (HB 673) would criminalize drag shows performed in public spaces or in the presence of minors, making performances punishable by five months to a year in jail.

It does seem like the drag trivia event will move forward, however. The Pauli Murray LGBTQ Bar Association has volunteered to take over the organization of the event at Motorco Music Hall in Durham.

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