LGBTQ leader entangled in Cuomo report comes under fire
The president of the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization is under fire from activists and some of his own employees over his role in the sexual harassment controversy surrounding New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
A report released Wednesday by the state attorney general’s office found that Cuomo had harassed multiple women.
It also said that Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, who worked in Cuomo’s office for eight years before taking his current position in 2019, provided Cuomo aides with a confidential personnel file of a former Cuomo staffer after the staffer publicly accused the governor of harassment.
The Cuomo aides asked David for the file the day the former staffer, Lindsey Boylan, made her public accusation against Cuomo. Cuomo’s aides later leaked negative information about her to the press and consulted David on other moves meant to disparage accusers, the report said.
The revelations have raised questions from activists about whether David can continue to represent as president an organization dedicated to protecting victims of harassment and abuse.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, the second openly lesbian person to be elected attorney general of a state, tweeted Wednesday that she would not accept campaign donations or support from HRC until the organization selects a new president.
David has defended his actions, stating that he was legally required to turn over the file. He has also indicated that he had no idea it was to be used as part of an effort to discredit her.
He’s called on his former boss to resign while expressing support for the women who have come forward to accuse the governor of harassment.
“Reading the Attorney General’s report made me sick to my stomach. As much as I knew Governor Cuomo to be a demanding boss, I never imagined he would have engaged in illegal conduct,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “He has to resign. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the survivors for their courage in speaking out.”
David said he was not aware of the allegations against Cuomo while working for the governor and only had direct contact with Boylan.
“I was never aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct, and no one ever reported them to me, as the report verifies. Of the 11 survivors, I only directly engaged with one, and that was on a personnel matter that had nothing to do with sexual misconduct,” his statement said.
He also said the allegations against Cuomo underscore the importance of his organization’s work.
“The Governor’s abhorrent behavior is yet more proof of how much work we have to do to ensure equality and justice for all people,” he said. “I’m so proud of my HRC colleagues, who are fighting that fight every day. We have so much work left to do.”
HRC’s board has said it will stick with David, whose contract as president was just extended this week by five years.
In a joint statement shared with media outlets, the chairs of the HRC and HRC Foundation boards said they have “full confidence” in David as president of the organization, touting his “extraordinary leadership” amid the pandemic, racial justice protests and the high-stakes 2020 election.
But the organization is coming under pressure internally as well as externally.
During an all-staff meeting Wednesday, several staffers called for his resignation, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by HuffPost.
Chris Pepin-Neff, a former LGBTQ lobbyist who pushed Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and a HRC member, said the organization’s board must vigorously investigate David’s involvement in Cuomo’s alleged retaliation campaigns.
“It is not permissible for these allegations to be true and for this person to run the largest LGBTQ lobbying organization in the country,” he said.
Scott Long, founder of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, said HRC needs to address the controversy or it will lose support from LGBTQ activists.
“I think they have to be very clear about what their response to this is, and about whether the organization values its commitment to victims and survivors, or whether they care more about staying in the good graces of people in power,” he said.
Besides the controversy over the personnel file, David has also come under criticism over how aides to Cuomo sought his help in getting people to sign a letter defending Cuomo from Boylan’s accusations. The letter denied Boylan’s claims and attacked her political motivations.
The attorney general’s report said David agreed to ask former Cuomo aides to sign the letter.
It quoted another Cuomo aide, Melissa DeRosa, as saying that while David initially said he would not sign the letter, “he later said, ‘If you need me to, I will.’ ”
“Mr. David testified that he did not agree to have his name attached to the statement because he did not know if the statements in it were true and he did not think it was a good response,” the report states. “He nonetheless agreed to read it and convey its substance to other former employees to see if they would sign it.”
The report, citing documents, said some of those reviewing the letter thought it was a terrible idea and that some saw it as “victim shaming.”
David says he did not know about various claims made against Cuomo at the time the letter was being discussed, and that he never signed it.
David testified that Boylan told him she “had not been subject to sex discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.” As a result, when David was considering the letter and talking to others about it, his supporters say he had been told by Boylan that she was not a victim.
Jill Basinger, an attorney for Boylan, told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday that she and her client were “shocked” to see that Cuomo’s office had sought out advocates such as David to help them against Boylan.
“We were shocked, just shocked that the people that were asked to protect survivors, the very organizations put in place to help people, were being weaponized against Lindsey,” Basinger told the Post. “She didn’t know there were this many people rooting against her.”