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Compromising positions 

A fired North Carolina beauty queen is fighting to keep private the semi-nude photos that led to the loss of her title

The Miss North Carolina Pageant Organization wants to see Rebekah Revels' bare breasts. These are the same breasts that so rattled them a year ago, they made Revels resign as Miss North Carolina 2002 without ever seeing them uncovered. But they're not afraid of those breasts anymore. Now they want to look at them. Now they're evidence--of what isn't exactly clear--but never mind. Show us what you got, Rebekah.

In their effort to defend themselves in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Revels, lawyers for the Miss North Carolina organization have recently demanded that her lawyer turn over half-nude photos of the pageant queen. These are the same photos that were rumored to exist last year when the pageant board decided to can Revels, but which no member of the board has ever seen.

The moral and commercial meanings of Revels' bare breasts first became an issue almost exactly a year ago, when an old boyfriend of hers anonymously e-mailed the Miss America Organization at 2:30 one morning to imply certain things about the character of the newly crowned Miss North Carolina. "Would you want to be represented by someone with a past? Nude pics of Miss America bring in big bucks nowadays," he wrote.

The answer to the anonymous boyfriend's question was, "No." He never told the Miss America Organization or the Miss North Carolina Pageant Organization that he possessed such photographs, and neither organization ever asked to see them. Just the hint of their existence was enough to send both organizations to their battle stations. (Not another Vanessa Williams. No way.)

Two days later, the Miss America board brought Revels in for a meeting, and it was Revels herself who confirmed that there might exist two photographs showing her bare from the waist up. She told them that an old boyfriend she hadn't seen in two and a half years had once snapped them without her permission, and that he might still have them. The officials showed her the anonymous e-mail. She looked at it and told them it had been sent by that same boyfriend, Tosh Welch, a member of the Cherokee Police Department. How did she know? She'd been the one to help him set up the e-mail account years before, and she recognized his address.

The next day, after hearing from the Miss America Organization, the Miss North Carolina board brought Revels in again to tell her that she would be "terminated" as Miss North Carolina at 9 a.m. the next day if she didn't resign beforehand. The next morning, she scrawled a one-sentence resignation in her own hand, signed and printed her name, and gave up her crown. At that moment, as far as anyone knows, no one except Revels and Welch had ever seen the photographs. The Miss North Carolina Pageant and the Miss America Pageant, to their relief, had been saved from embarrassment.

Since then, the legal meaning of Revels' bare breasts has been raised in three separate lawsuits--against ex-boyfriend Welch, and the Miss North Carolina and Miss America organizations. The lawsuits against the pageants are complex, but they boil down to this: Revels believes she was wrongly forced from office as Miss North Carolina 2002.

The lawsuit against Welch, which is still awaiting trial, isn't so complex. In it, she claims he invaded her privacy, and that the court should order him to turn over the photographs and prevent him from showing them to anyone. Last fall, the court, presided over by Robeson County Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear, issued a temporary restraining order against Welch barring him from distributing the photographs, and ordered him to turn them over to Revels. Locklear found that Revels "never gave Defendant Tosh Welch permission to take any photographs of her in a nude or semi-nude condition."

Those photographs, once turned over to Revels' lawyer, Barry Nakell, were "designated as confidential and shall not be disclosed to any persons except the following: the parties and counsel for the parties in this action," according to a consent protective order also issued by Locklear.

Now comes the Miss North Carolina organization, demanding to see the photographs and raising what amounts to a metaphysical question: What can a breast tell us about a woman's soul, or at least, her character?

Nakell has offered to show the pageant's lawyers the photographs from the neck up, so that they might get an idea of the circumstances--where they were taken, whether she seems to be posing or not, whether she seems to be enjoying herself. Revels herself has already told them that, yes, her breasts are bare in the pictures.

But that's not good enough for the Miss North Carolina Organization, a franchise of the Miss America organization that "exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community" as their official corporate history reads. These particular breasts need to be revealed say the pageant's lawyers, because they might--might--reveal something about her character. Also, Alan Clouse, a Miss North Carolina board member, says there's a discrepancy between how Revels described the photographs to the court last fall, and how she described them to the board when they were about to fire her.

Revels told the court she has her hands on her hips and looks angry in one picture, while in the other, she is covering her chest with her arms. But Clouse says she told them last year that in one photo she is crossing her arms over her chest, and in the other is stretching her arms over her head. Clouse says Revels told board members the photos were taken in an "intimate situation." But Revels told the court that she was caught changing clothes, and that what she actually said was that they were in an "intimate relationship."

Harley Jones, attorney for the Miss North Carolina Pageant, says, "Ms. Revels is the one who put the content of the photos into this case by testifying about them." Neatly sidestepping the fact that the subject of the photos has been the central question since Welch sent his note to pageant officials a year ago.

The pageant's lawyers have argued it this way: "Ms. Revels character is the basis of Respondents' defense of this case since she resigned as a result of breaching the morality clause" of her contract. They say the pageant has "every right to discover and admit into evidence instances of Revels' character, particularly instances involving nude photographs, the reason for her resignation."

That is to say, it's not enough to admit that the photos were taken while you were bare-chested, and it's not enough to show the circumstances in which they were taken. Your face, your eyes, your mouth, the curve of your neck, the sweep of your hair--traditional windows into the heart, if our poets are to be believed--are not good enough for the Miss North Carolina organization. In their metaphysics, only the unadorned breast can tell the true tale of Rebekah Revels.

It's a strange position for an organization like Miss North Carolina to take. After all, the organization has paraded generations of young women and their accentuated-yet-tastefully-covered breasts across countless stages in front of thousands of people, all the while maintaining that these are good girls and that their breasts mean nothing, whatever you think when you gaze upon the contestants in their swimsuits and heels. (And, anyway, that's not a swimsuit competition, that's a "lifestyle and fitness competition," pervert. Quit looking at them like that.)

Last month, the Miss North Carolina lawyers presented their case for the photos to an arbitrator. At first, the arbitrator was inclined to grant their wish, and instructed Nakell to turn over the photographs. But Nakell declared he would never do so.

"I made a commitment to Rebekah when I went to seek the photographs that I would do my best to get them, keep them from circulation, and keep them from being seen by anyone," he says. "That was our purpose from the beginning. She did not want anyone to see them, and that certainly includes the folks who want to see them now. They've already betrayed her more than once."

By refusing to turn over the photographs, Nakell risked having the arbitrator throw the case out---an outcome he theorizes was the whole point of the Miss North Carolina gambit.

But on July 1, the arbitrator changed his mind and told both sides to go back to Judge Locklear, who sealed the photographs under the consent protective order in the Welch case, and ask him whether the pageant should see the photographs.

For the moment, Rebekah Revels' breasts will remain covered. And wasn't that the point, anyway? EndBlock

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