2 recent judicial ethics advisory opinions addressed judges’ participation in Pride month events. As noted by the New York Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, “Pride month typically celebrates a wide range of sexual and gender identities and gender expressions, often including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual identities (LGBTQIA+).” New York Advisory Opinion 2022-75.
The New York committee stated that a judge may speak at a free community celebration of Pride month when the event is not a fund-raiser and subject to generally applicable limitations on speech and conduct. A non-profit organization had invited the inquiring judge to speak about the judge’s experience as a member of a minority group. The committee explained that, “in general, judges may publicly discuss their professional and personal background and experience.” The committee cited previous opinions allowing a judge to speak at a foreign consulate about becoming the first judge of a particular gender and ethnicity in a specific judicial district (New York Advisory Opinion 2015-133) and to speak about their background and experience in becoming a judge at schools and places of worship affiliated with a certain religion (New York Advisory Opinion 2017-12). The opinion reiterated that sharing “their experiences as a judge and as a member of a particular minority group at a non-fund-raising community event hosted by a not-for-profit organization . . . ‘is clearly compatible with judicial office, and unlikely to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s impartiality, detract from the dignity of judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.’” The committee also noted that “’a judge need not conceal his/her judicial status when engaging in permissible extra-judicial activities’” and added that the judge may allow the organization to use their photo and title in social media promotions for the event.
The Colorado Judicial Ethics Advisory Board stated that a judge, subject to several conditions, may attend and watch the Denver PrideFest festival and parade and may march in the parade with a bar association such as the Colorado LGBT Bar Association. Colorado Advisory Opinion 2022-1. The committee noted its advice also applied to similar events such as Cinco de Mayo, the Marade, and Juneteenth.
“Denver PrideFest is promoted as a ‘celebration of community and culture that is welcoming, inclusive and fun to all attendees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.’ The two-day festival celebrates ‘the heritage and culture of the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado’ and draws more than 450,000 participants.”
The committee concluded: “Because PrideFest is a community festival intended to promote inclusivity, equal rights, and equal application of the law, there is no concern that a judge’s participation in the event would undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary or give the appearance of impropriety or bias.” In support of its conclusion, the committee cited advisory opinions from other states allowing judges to participate in community parades in general (Ohio Advisory Opinion 2017-8), to serve as the grand marshal of a city’s ethnic day parade (Connecticut Informal Opinion 2015-18), to serve as the grand marshal of a St. Patrick’s Day parade (New York Advisory Opinion 2004-144), and to participate in and attend events sponsored by Gay and Lesbian Activist Defenders (Massachusetts Advisory Opinion 1995-8).
As it has for other public events, the committee reminded the judge to continue “to evaluate whether participation is appropriate leading up to and during the event” and not to identify as a judge while participating. Noting that “although PrideFest is intended to be non-partisan, political candidates tend to participate to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community,” the committee cautioned the judge to “take care not to appear with any political candidates or give the impression that the judge is endorsing a candidate or political organization.”
The committee also advised that a judge “may march in the parade with the LGBT Bar Association as long as the judge’s participation is not construed as an endorsement of a particular political organization but rather as a general celebration of PrideFest’s promotion of diversity, inclusion, and community.” Although the inquiring judge did not intend to identify as a judge during the parade, the committee noted that, “given its small membership, it is likely that the LGBT Bar Association will know the requesting judge is a judicial official,” and, therefore, the judge should be careful not to abuse the prestige of judicial official or allow the LGBT Bar Association to do so.
The committee reiterated its prior advice that, in evaluating whether to participate in public events such as parades, festivals, and other celebrations, a judge should consider whether:
- Participation will cause or likely cause a violation of the law, for example, by violating a curfew;
- Participation will undermine the confidence of the judiciary or give the appearance of impartiality or impropriety;
- Participation would create the appearance the judge is abusing the prestige of judicial office or allowing others to;
- Participation will interfere with the performance of judicial duties;
- The event relates to a case pending or impending before the judge, or the event relates to an issue likely to come before the courts;
- Participation will result in or is likely to result in judicial disqualification;
- The event is sponsored or endorsed by an organization that discriminates on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation; or
- Participation creates the appearance the judge is endorsing a political candidate or political organization.