On Sunday, November 14th, Republican Lt. Governor Mark Robinson delivered a campaign speech at Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem in which, yet again, he targeted gay, lesbian and transgender North Carolinians with vile hate speech. After comparing gay, lesbian and transgender people to “maggots” and “flies,” he also explicitly proclaimed heterosexual couples with children “superior” to those – gay or straight – without (or unable to have) them.
Here is a link to the full video including Robinson’s unedited comments. A warning – it is highly offensive.
But Mark Robinson was not the only Republican politician at Berean that day. A number of other Republican politicians lined up to introduce him and give the assembled crowd their campaign pitch, including a sitting state appellate judge: April Wood.
Republican Judge April Wood currently sits on the state Court of Appeals, the second-highest court in North Carolina. She was elected to that position in 2020 after serving as a District Court judge. Barely 10 months into her term, Judge Wood is already running for a promotion to the North Carolina Supreme Court in the 2022 election. She gave a version of her standard campaign pitch at the event, and stayed for the duration of Robinson’s speech. You can see a clip of her remarks here.
Judge Wood’s appearance at Robinson’s hate rally is deeply troubling. Most people would agree that judges are, in an important sense, different from other political candidates like state legislators or executive officers. We rely upon our judicial system for a level of restraint and the impartiality that justice requires – and for that, judges are held to particularly high standards of conduct, so as not to risk impairing the perception of judicial integrity. These standards are codified in the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct.
For a sitting judge, particularly a high-profile one, and especially one who aspires to North Carolina’s highest court to participate in and endorse the sort of naked bigotry Mark Robinson espouses is deeply troubling.
Last week, Carolina Forward released a statement calling on Judge Wood to publicly disavow Mark Robinson’s hate speech and to clarify her commitment to legal equality for all LGBTQ North Carolinians. Today, we are sending a physical copy of the letter below to Judge Wood’s offices; Chief Appellate Judge Donna Stroud; Chief Justice Paul Newby; North Carolina Bar Association President Jon Heyl; North Carolina Bar Association President-Elect Clayton Morgan; and North Carolina Bar Association Executive Director Jason Hensley.
Judges who ally themselves with open bigots like Robinson cannot possibly be considered impartial in a court of law. This is not just a question of Judge Wood’s integrity – it also affects the legitimacy of North Carolina’s entire courts system. We urge Judge Wood to do the right thing.
Demand accountability from Judge Wood!
A full copy of our open letter follows.
Dear Judge Wood,
I am writing to express my disappointment and dismay at your campaign appearance at the Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem on Sunday, November 14th with Lt. Governor Mark Robinson. As a North Carolina Appellate Judge, your appearance fell outside of the bounds of acceptable conduct, both defined in the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as common decency. On behalf of Carolina Forward and thousands of our members across our state, we ask that you unequivocally disavow Robinson’s hate speech and clarify your commitment to the dignity and equality under the law of all LGBTQ North Carolinians.
As you will recall, after making a pitch for your campaign for the North Carolina Supreme Court at the church event that day, you helped introduce the Lieutenant Governor and shared a stage with him. In his speech, Lt. Governor Robinson proceeded to denigrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians in his characteristically vile and hateful language. Lt. Governor Robinson repeatedly compared LGBTQ North Carolinians to “maggots” and “flies.” He also very explicitly called heterosexual couples with children “superior” to those without (and, by implication, to those unable to have them). The video evidence of this event has been widely seen and reported on as a matter of record.
It is quite obvious that Robinson’s words met the definition of “hate speech.” Indeed, this was far from the first time Robinson has chosen to target gay, lesbian and transgender North Carolinians with abuse and hate disguised in the vocabulary of faith. That history alone should have given you serious hesitation before sharing a stage with such a man. Yet you did so anyway. And when Robinson compared LGBTQ North Carolinians to loathsome insects, you did not have the courage to publicly object – much less stand up and leave. Nor did you do so when he explicitly asserted that some of our citizens are “superior” to others.
Canon 2 of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct states: “A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself/herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” In this case, you clearly fell short of that standard. How is it possible for any gay, lesbian or transgender person to seriously believe that a judge who shares a stage with an avowed anti-gay bigot would be impartial towards them? How should they, or even a heterosexual person unable (or simply disinclined) to have children, interpret your implicit endorsement that some North Carolinians are “superior” to others?
Language like Robinson’s is not harmless. According to the FBI, out of the many thousands of hate crime incidents reported every year (a known under-counting), approximately 23% were motivated by the offender’s bias against sexual orientation or gender identity in 2020. Hate crimes against transgender people are steadily rising year-on-year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 48 transgender or non-conforming people have been murdered in 2021 alone. These people are real, and the deadly violence arrayed against them is directly fueled by ignorance and hate like that from Mark Robinson.
Judge Wood, it is entirely possible to be politically conservative without engaging or endorsing homophobic bigotry and hatred. As a sitting judge, and particularly as one who aspires to our state’s highest court, you owe it to our judicial system – and to the people of our state – to clarify your values. Once again, we ask you to publicly disavow Robinson’s hate speech and affirmatively endorse the full rights to equality and dignity before the law for all LGBTQ North Carolinians. Your impartiality, the integrity of our courts, and the difference between right and wrong are at stake. Please do the right thing.
Executive Director, Carolina Forward