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Sparks Fly After North Carolina Legal Boss Axes Drag Trivia Event

ALLISON JOYCE
ALLISON JOYCE

The president of the North Carolina Bar Association faced immense backlash from the group’s committee for LGBTQ+ equality this week, after he canceled a planned drag trivia night and suggested that the committee “present both sides” of the debate about drag culture instead.

That way, NCBA president Clayton Morgan said, the committee wouldn’t be “perceived as trying to advance just your agenda on the world,” according to a recording of his remarks shared with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity.

The trivia night was in the works for many months, but the political stakes for progressives in North Carolina have recently escalated. In April, a Democratic state representative switched parties, thereby giving Republicans a veto-proof majority in both the state House and Senate. Later that month, Republican legislators proposed a new bill that would criminalize hosting drag shows on public property.

The bar association’s committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity had scheduled their drag trivia night for June 8, but on May 5, the group’s members received an email from Morgan telling them that the event was off.

“I did not come to this difficult decision lightly or without a lot of thought and consideration,” he wrote. Morgan agreed to participate in a “special meeting” on May 8 to discuss the cancellation.

“I think all of us went into this meeting thinking that it was not going to be great. It somehow managed to be about 100 times worse,” Michael Roessler, a Charlotte-based attorney and member of the committee, told The Daily Beast.

Within two minutes, the meeting hit its first snag. A member of the group proposed recording the conversation in the interest of “transparency” and “accountability.” Morgan nixed the proposal, announcing that the board had recently enacted a policy against recording meetings.

After a series of introductions, Morgan launched into a lengthy speech, which featured several minutes of pablum about the importance of unity and “pursuing common goals.”

“We’re all unique individuals, no one has ever or will ever walk squarely in each and every one of our shoes,” he said, “and the outcome of each of our own lived experiences is what makes us individually unique and collectively brilliant.”

Morgan conceded that drag shows in general had been misconstrued by political actors, saying “there are individuals in society who have now chosen to use this very type of event for something that it’s not. And it will therefore be hard for the association to help create the correct understanding of it by actually having an event.”

He repeatedly emphasized that the NCBA tries to avoid entering heated legislative or political debates that don’t advance the “overall best interest of the organization.” By permitting the trivia night, the group’s other legislative priorities might be negatively impacted, he said. (Morgan could not immediately be reached for comment.)

From there, things “went off the rails,” Roessler said, after Morgan proposed hosting an open forum with a “neutral moderator.” Morgan insisted that he continued to support the committee, though he urged them to view his comments as an opportunity for growth.

“This denial can serve as an impetus, in my opinion, to take a step back, rethink a different approach, [and] educate the members and the public along the lines I just talked about that are consistent with preserving the association’s ability to operate as an effective organization for everybody.”

His remarks did not go over well. Roessler opened the conversation by pressing Morgan on whether he had fecklessly succumbed to fears that “the Republican supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly would look poorly on this event.” After Morgan replied with an answer Roessler deemed unsatisfactory, Roessler told him to “cut the bullshit.”

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Another group member then sounded off. “The message that I’m hearing from you, Clayton, is way worse than I had ever imagined. It’s patronizing, it’s embarrassing, it’s disappointing. Your words ring hollow.”

The member said he expected Morgan to tell the group he had canceled the event out of concern for their safety. But “it doesn’t seem that anybody cares about our safety,” the person continued. “It only seems to be that people care about the backlash.”

Morgan then insisted that safety had been a “huge consideration.”

Other participants on the call shared their distress about the cancellation, saying it signaled the NCBA’s lack of support at a time when LGBTQ+ individuals are vulnerable to both hostile factions of the public and the state legislature. “These bills, Clayton, are a death sentence for our community,” said a member who seemed to be on the verge of tears.

“Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Every time these bills pass more of our young people decide that it’s not worth it to try to make it to adulthood,” she added. “And if we as a profession can’t stand up for that, then what can we stand up for?”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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