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Schwartz: ‘In it to win it’

Former D.C. Council member runs as LGBT ally in fifth race for mayor

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Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade
Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz is making a fifth run for D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series profiling the leading candidates for D.C. mayor in next month’s election. Next week: David Catania.

 

D.C. mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz defies anyone to prove she doesn’t have the longest and strongest record of support for the LGBT community among the current candidates running for mayor.

Beginning in her high school days in Midland, Texas, when she befriended gay classmates, to her years on the D.C. school board in the 1970s through her 16 years on the City Council, Schwartz says she has worked as diligently to advance LGBT rights as she has in her role as a champion for all city residents.

“I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in this community,” she told the Washington Blade in an interview last week.

Schwartz, 70, said in no uncertain terms that she was referring to D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s gay, and Council member and mayoral contender Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as among those whose records on LGBT issues hers surpasses.

“It was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education,” she said. “I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned – any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.”

Schwartz has strongly disputed claims by detractors that she entered the mayoral race this year in retaliation against Catania, who helped orchestrate her defeat in her 2008 re-election bid for the Council.

While saying she is better qualified to be mayor than Bowser, Schwartz leveled her strongest criticism against Catania in her interview with the Blade.

Among other things, she said Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party in 2004 and denounce then President George W. Bush for his support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage came “five minutes” after Catania had raised large sums of money for Bush’s re-election campaign.

“I never raised money for George W. Bush,” she said in referring to her role as a longtime Republican. “And he came to me and asked for money” for the Bush campaign, Schwartz said in referring to Catania’s 2004 support for Bush before the blowup over the marriage issue.

“The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when [Catania] was like browbeating me to do so,” she said.

Schwartz said she has raised Catania’s initial support for Bush in an effort to deflect criticism of her affiliation with the Republican Party prior to her decision to switch from Republican to independent earlier this year when she decided to run for mayor.

“If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him,” she said of her and Catania’s roots in the Republican Party.

Catania has said that although he switched from being a Republican to an independent after Bush announced his support for the anti-gay federal marriage amendment in 2004, he likely would have left the GOP anyway a short time later due to its continuing tilt to the right. Like Schwartz, Catania described himself as a progressive Republican.

“So I’m running to win the election,” Schwartz said. “I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win.”

 

Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz at Gay Pride Day in 1986. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Washington Blade: Can you tell a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to D.C.?

Carol Schwartz: I grew up in Midland, Texas. It was an oil rich town because there was oil discovered in Midland. And Midland became very nouveau riche overnight – you know new rich people because of the oil business. Everybody said, ‘Oh, Midland, you must be in the oil business with huge resources.’

The answer is no. The closest we got to the oil business was that my mom and dad had a mom and pop work clothing store on the poor side of town across the tracks. And they sold steel toe boots and steel helmets and khakis and overalls to people that worked in the oil fields…

I came up here 48-and-a-half years ago – actually it was 49 years ago, right after I graduated from the University of Texas. I was engaged to be married. I had my ring on and I had a wedding planned for January. And I was going to go back in the beginning of September and was going to teach special education in a junior high school in Austin, Texas.

And I came here because a friend had a summer internship job . . . and she heard I had some free time so she said why don’t you come and visit. I spent three days – 72 hours exactly. My head never hit the pillow. I became enthralled with D.C. I just loved it. I loved the architecture and greenery. I thought it was so beautiful. And I loved the diversity. I thought it was really special. And it wasn’t just racial diversity. It was economic diversity and it was international. It was really, I thought, thrilling.

And all of a sudden I realized Texas wasn’t the place. And the guy I had been going with at that point – like four years – was not the one. I went back and told my job I would be leaving in midterm. I wanted to give them an opportunity to get someone in my place. And then I broke my engagement.

He—thank goodness, he called me today. He’s married to a wonderful woman. He’s one of my best friends. We have a beautiful relationship. It took a while to get there — a few years — but a beautiful relationship.

And I moved here with no job, no man, nothing. So I mean everybody used to say when you came to Washington – because in that era a woman coming alone – ‘Did you follow a man or a job?’ And I said actually neither – I left both back in Texas so none of the above. And so I really chose D.C. I didn’t follow my parents here. I didn’t follow a relationship here or a job here. I picked this town.

 

Blade: What year was that?

Schwartz: I actually got introduced here in ’65 and I moved here in January of ’66. So it’s 48-and-a-half years.

And your other question was tell me a little about your life…I started working in that store when I was 8 years old. And I had to be there. It wasn’t like, oh Carol, come when you can. It was like after school we expect you here and on Saturdays and even Sundays until the blue laws came in. So I’ve been a worker since I was 8.

And obviously I need to be a worker again. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m running. And it’s not just a worker. There are other jobs – the job I think I can do best for the city.

So a combination of there being very few Jewish families and a town that had very few minorities of any kind – and having experienced anti-Semitism, which I did.

I think a very defining part of my life was not just seeing the kind of intolerance that was out there, not only toward me. There was an African-American man who worked in our store and seeing as a very young girl what he had to take.

And that was the only other employee, actually — as well as my brother Johnny — my only sibling…I thought that Johnny, with his intellectual disabilities, that people should be nicer and kinder to him, not being mean and ridiculing. And that made me realize how cruel people can be and that I had to fight for the underdog. And so I learned how to do it as a very young girl. And I guess I’ve been doing it ever since.

You may have met Johnny or seen Johnny over the years. He died 10 years ago at 62. He had come to my swearing-ins and he took the mic. He was adorable. But he was an older brother. He was 18 months older. I really spent a good part of my childhood taking care of Johnny.

I also had two friends in school who were not openly gay. And you’ve got to realize that I graduated from high school in ’61. We were friends in school. But they never talked openly about their sexual orientation. It just wasn’t discussed . . . I danced with one and I was good friends with the other. But both of them sadly committed suicide after high school.

And I think knowing about them without really knowing about it and seeing them take their own lives made me especially also sensitive to people who did not feel they could be what they should and wanted to be. Anyway, what defined me were those kinds of experiences.

 

Blade: At this point in the mayoral race your two main opponents are saying they have a very strong record on LGBT rights. David Catania says that as a member of the LGBT community he’s sensitive to these issues and has been a champion on those issues. What would you say to LGBT voters who ask why should we vote for you?

Schwartz: I don’t think anybody, regardless of their own sexual orientation, has a better record than I do in the community. I mean starting when I got on the school board when I was 30 years old. This was 40 years ago when I got elected to the board of education. I immediately went about getting a rule change – a rule addition – to make discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers banned — any discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.

 

Blade: This was in the 1970s?

Schwartz: In the ‘70s. In the mid ‘70s on the board of education – it wasn’t even an issue that somebody brought to me. I at that point already had a lot of gay and lesbian friends and I just wanted to make sure that when I was looking through the rules that there was nothing about discrimination about anyone.

 

Blade: And then as a school board member did you run for the City Council?

Schwartz: No, I took a two-year break. I chose not to run after two terms and then I went off and I worked as a full-time consultant with the U.S. Department of Education…And then I went to be a press secretary to a member of Congress. So I got federal experience and Hill experience in those couple of years.

I did serve when I was on the board of education as vice chair of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, which I think was an amazing experience. I did that for five years. President Ford appointed me but President Carter kept me on. I was vice chair during all that period…

And then in ’84 I ran for the Council and so in ’85 I went on the Council – in January of ’85.

I want to finish your question about my record and about strong records. I said nobody has as comparable a record even the one who is so readily identified. I have done community service work for the community for years. I was on the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic for 17 years. Jim Graham brought me on in 1989 and I went off in 2006. I don’t think I ever missed a meeting, and you know we met often. And I was elected. I think there was one year I was appointed. Every other year of those 17 years I was elected by the community to serve on the board. And I was also elected as vice president. I think at that point there had never been a straight person elected to a position of leadership…

So I was always at those meetings. I never left early. And there would be sometimes that I would be sitting there at midnight when I had to be at an 8 a.m. breakfast the next morning at the Council to have our legislative session. So it was the ultimate sacrifice. It paid nothing.

And I did fundraisers at my home for Whitman-Walker. All those years I personally gave a lot of money. I mean, you name the organization. I contribute today and I’m not even in public life. If it’s Lambda Legal, they get a check – at least one check, usually more every year. GLAA I usually give a little something to when they do their annual thing. There’s hardly any organization I haven’t – Brother Help Thyself – the one that Cornelius [Baker] used to head up – the national organization that had something to do with people living with AIDS.

 

Blade: The National Association of People with AIDS?

Schwartz: Yes – I always gave to them. And a year and a half ago I was the regional co-chair for PFLAG. They had their 30th anniversary celebration – and I did a big fundraiser in my house for PFLAG was well. So whether it is giving money or spending time as a volunteer for organizations that are valuable – I don’t know how much volunteer work either of those other two do – volunteer work that they do in the community with organizations that are near and dear and helping the community.

Even in Rehoboth – I live here. I have a house in Rehoboth – it’s been 20 years now. But I’m a member of CAMP Rehoboth [an LGBT organization and community center]. I’m a paying member of CAMP Rehoboth. I’m always an individual host of the Sundance and the Love benefit. They are the big functions for that organization and I send in my check and I’m a big supporter. I’m at their activities and I give them money.

So I will repeat – I don’t know if you will ask them [mayoral candidates David Catania and Muriel Bowser], but what have they done as a volunteer or financially for organizations that serve the community? If they have, I am not aware of them. And I will be glad to show you my tax returns with all of the checks I’ve written to the organizations of which we speak.

 

Blade: Are you referring to LGBT organizations?

Schwartz: Yes, yes. And I would challenge them to do the same. You know, he made pretty good money — $240,000 from MC Dean and a hundred and nearly thirty thousand from his Council work — so in my estimation that’s getting pretty close to $400,000 a year. I don’t make anything near that kind of money. My income is so far less than that, in fact, to a degree that my accountant says Carol you can’t keep giving like you used to give. You don’t have that kind of money. I said I’m going to give until I run out. But I would say with nearly $400,000 you should see lots of contributions.

 

Blade: He has said he doesn’t doubt that you are a committed supporter of the LGBT community. But he also said you are a Johnny-come-lately on marriage equality for gay people. He said you hesitated to support legalization of same-sex marriage in the District.

Schwartz: Listen — there was a lot of conflict within the community itself. You’ve got to go back a few years. We had the strongest domestic [partnership] law in the country. And I helped add to that. I always supported what was done and I helped that. And there was nervousness among lots of us who were supporters about putting that in jeopardy. But I did write in 2008 in this newspaper. I did write that I was there on the marriage question. Go back and look at it. And I am not opposed to it was the way it was written. And that was in 2008. It took Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton far more years than that. What was it 2013 that they both came around?

 

Blade: It was 2012 for the president.

Schwartz: OK – so please. I cannot be criticized on this. I cannot be criticized. And when the community as a whole was ready to say yes let’s go forward I was there. I had the same concerns that many others had. But when the community was there, I was ready to go forward. I did think the word marriage would prolong the issue. But thank God it didn’t. And I’m grateful that it didn’t.

 

Blade: You’re referring to the D.C. marriage equality law?

Schwartz: Yeah. Well I thought the word marriage might prolong it. I was at – long before all this happened. If I had been on the Council in 2009 I would have voted for it without a doubt. I would have voted for it in 2009…

I’ve always been trying to be protective in every way. I added more money to the Human Rights Commission…I don’t think there has been a high heel race whether I have been in office or not that I’m not there. You saw it in the article today. I was going to gay bars long before it was fashionable.

 

Blade: Are you referring to the Washington Post story on you?

Schwartz: Yeah. I mean I’ve always been out and about. And I didn’t like sneak around and do it. I would take the media with me. And remember in those years I was a Republican and they had some issues. And I didn’t care. I was out there. There was a big story in the Post in 1986 of me dancing with lesbians in gay bars. And people said to me do you want to do this before the campaign? And I said I go where I go and they can report what they report. My life is an open book.

 

Blade: That goes to the issue of the city’s electorate being so Democratic. You were a Republican –

Schwartz: And so was David – so was David. If you’re going to mention it about me you need to mention it about him.

 

Blade: But –

Schwartz: And then when he got in trouble after he raised a huge amount of money – tens of thousands of dollars – for the president. I never raised money for George W. Bush. I never did. And he came to me and asked for money – David Catania. The only check I ever gave to a Republican president was when he was like browbeating me to do so.

 

Carol Schwartz, gay news, Washington Blade

Carol Schwartz faces Muriel Bowser and David Catania in the race for D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Blade: Would that have been the 2000 campaign?

Schwartz: No – I think it was in 2004….And after that [Bush] did the amendment, the marriage amendment between a man and a woman. And then David got mad and he started really criticizing the president. And he was going to be a delegate to the convention…

I think he wanted to be mayor for a lot of years. I think he realized that since I couldn’t get elected mayor as a Republican that it might be hard for him as well. And actually he even verbalized it to me before. And so the timing – he then, they withdrew his credentials because he was out bad-mouthing the president. And then I quit as a delegate in sympathy. Don’t you remember that? It was in the Washington Post. In sympathy for my colleague on the issue of marriage equality I quit as a delegate. I didn’t go to the convention. I had been an elected delegate and I in sympathy quit.

 

Blade: He said in his interview with the Blade that in addition to his disagreement with President Bush over the marriage issue he believed the Republican Party was drifting too far to the right and he would likely have left the party for those reasons.

Schwartz: All right. He told you that. I don’t know. But he’s also said he left over the marriage issue.

 

Blade: Yes, he said that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Schwartz: But I mean that was five minutes after he raised $5,000 at least – I think it was more. And then he said at the debate the other day that he got that money back. He said it at the debate. He was sitting right next to me. He said I just want you to know I got that money back from the president. Well that’s great, and I turned to him and I said what about my money, because that wasn’t all his money. That was money he raised for the president. And he announced that he got it back. Did he keep my money? What did he do with it? I didn’t get my money back.

 

Blade: Was that something both of you had in common – your concern over the direction the Republican Party was taking?

Schwartz: Yeah – and there was room for that. In the old Republican Party – in the former Republican Party there was room for being a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. And then there wasn’t any more. I kept it years longer because then there was only one Republican on the Council and I was able to do really good things, including for the community. Do you remember when [U.S. Rep.] Todd Tiahrt [R-Kan.] got the rider put on the [D.C.] budget that banned gay and lesbian adoptions [in D.C.]? Don’t you remember that? They couldn’t adopt children in the District of Columbia? That was a rider.

I went down with Carl Schmid and I got the appointment. We were able to get the appointment because I was a Republican and went down and I started talking about my friends, many of whom were adopting children and the loving families for these children that they wouldn’t have had. They were neglected children. And here they were now part of loving families. And how could we deny that opportunity both for the people who were adopting who wanted children as well as the children who needed tender loving care? And I started crying sitting there talking. Carl was sitting there. The congressman was sitting there and I was sitting here.

 

Blade: This was Congressman Tiahrt?

Schwartz: Yes. And the rider disappeared that afternoon. And I didn’t go out – see I don’t go out there and call a press conference and say, ‘Look what I did, look what I did.’ I just did it. I didn’t have to get all the credit for it. I just took care of what needed to be done. But my being a Republican all those years helped.

So I’ve been working and I could do those things that I did by being a Republican. It didn’t help me politically in an 11-to-one voter disparity [among D.C. registered voters]. But it sure helped the city in many ways, including this community.

And that’s where I think you have a little prejudice here. It’s going to be nice you think to have a member of the community as the mayor. But let me tell you – if you look at what he – when somebody was fired from Whitman-Walker Clinic – let go, not even fired, along with lots of people because – remember when they were having financial difficulties? It was after I left [the Whitman-Walker board]. I left in 2006. This was after that. And then when he called up and he threatened the head – the executive director, whatever they called it at that time – and said either you hire her back or I’m coming after the clinic. And don’t you remember that series of hearings where he just beat up on the clinic? Don’t you remember that? You should.

 

Blade: He said he was looking into issues that led to the clinic’s financial problems.

Schwartz: Oh, all of a sudden – all of a sudden, absolutely. Don’t kid yourself. I mean maybe kid yourself but you can’t kid me. And ask anybody from the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Ask anybody that was there at that time. Just ask them. Walk across the street and ask them. And you won’t do it. You will not do it. He went after a whole clinic. And thank God for that clinic. It was over one individual. Don’t you think the timing is a little weird?

 

Blade: We reported that at the time. We also reported that the changes made by the director who did the firing – Don Blanchard – resulted in major financial improvements that stabilized the clinic’s finances.

Schwartz: Yes, Donald [Blanchon] did that. And I was there when we were already talking about some of those. So it wasn’t him. He’s always – like Muriel said, trying to get credit for everything. Only he did this and only he did that. It’s not true. There were contributions made by him, valuable contributions.

 

Blade: One of the things David Catania’s supporters argue is that while some accuse him of being too abrasive, several city agencies were in such a mess back in the 1990s and early 2000s, including the AIDS office, that they were happy someone was going after these bureaucrats. Would you have done something similar in your role on the Council as a fiscal watchdog?

Schwartz: Look at what I did to the Department of Public Works all those years. They are in transportation. They all got better. But I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t abrasive. You can be strong and tough and not demeaning. Unfortunately too many snarky people like meanness. And I don’t think meanness is necessary.

 

Blade: Are you saying your way would have been better?

Schwartz: Absolutely. We need to make friends. And there’s nobody that did a better job than I did of absolutely making a positive difference in agency after agency after agency. I got a letter from Dan Tangherlini [former director of the D.C. Department of Transportation]. He said they knew they could not come in to hearings not having tackled all the things I raised at the previous hearing, that his staff knew they had to whip themselves into shape and that how thankful he was. And then he said you were so tough but also fair.

Now I know there are some who love seeing people kicked on the ground and then when they’re on the ground you just keep kicking them. I don’t think that’s really appealing. And I don’t think any of us should find that appealing. You can actually get things done and make people make real change for the better without demeaning individuals along the way.

So I think I would be a far better mayor than anybody who’s running because I am strong, I am tough, I expect excellence. But I don’t kick anybody to the ground. I don’t push them to the ground and kick them while they’re on the ground.

 

Blade: His supporters will say you’re exaggerating, that he doesn’t kick people on the ground.

Schwartz: OK, fine. It’s not literal. It’s figurative.

 

Blade: A lot of people in the LGBT community remain concerned about anti-LGBT violence, including violence targeting transgender people. Have you said whether you plan to retain the chief of police, Cathy Lanier?

Schwartz: No I have not. I have not said I would or I wouldn’t. The only person I’ve spoken up on at all on any personnel matter has to do with [D.C. public schools chancellor] Kaya Henderson. I said I would retain her. She has asked for another year or so because of the things she’s started. And I don’t want to destabilize the school system that is starting to make some progress. And so that’s the only one I have weighed in on.

But hate crimes will be punished to the most severe degree possible. I find them abhorrent.

 

Blade: LGBT advocates have raised the issue of whether the city should fund their efforts to help conduct sensitivity training to police officers. So far these trainings are performed by volunteers who have to take off from work. They are asking now for some compensation for that.

Schwartz: I would certainly look into that. I want everyone to have the sensitivity training and I want people to provide it that know what they’re talking about. So if their problem is compensation I would certainly look seriously into it.

Look, my record is pretty stellar. And it wasn’t stellar because I was just being politically adept. It’s stellar because look what I did in my own time. Look what I did with my own resources. I think that distinguishes me. Now I happen to be straight. But you look at my friendships, my relationships, people who I travel with, people who I hang out with. My own daughter is married to a woman. So I don’t think you have a better friend. And I mean that literally – a better friend than me, nor do I think you will have a better mayor than I would be to the community.

 

Blade: There are some in the community who say the three leading mayoral candidates are all equally good on LGBT issues so people in the community should choose who to vote for based on other issues. What do you say to that?

Schwartz: Well gosh, who has the record? Who has the record that’s not just in a couple of areas but in every area – in every area? I mean the strongest whistleblower’s law in the country that the federal government replicated – that was me. And that was because I want our employees to be our eyes and ears. And they can’t cloak themselves in it if they’re about to be fired. I made provisions in it for us to make sure that if someone is being moved on that they can’t all of a sudden cloak themselves in the whistleblowers protection law. I created the Department of the Environment, the strongest tree bill in the nation to protect our tree canopy. I did away with the SUV’s, which became the vehicle of choice in the Williams administration. I banned those except in emergencies as gas guzzling things.

 

Blade: Do you mean for the city government?

Schwartz: Yeah, for city government. And then for those who have gas guzzlers they have to pay more to register their cars – fuel efficient they pay less. Curbside parking – how I moved it to the corner overnight so that people who live in densely populated areas can have more parking. Looking at domestic violence legislation I proposed in addition to all the things I’ve done for the community particularly – but all these things in every area of the government. I had a perpetual fund put in for pothole repairs – street, sidewalk and pothole repair. That money would be coming in. I did it with Dan Tangherlini. Money would be coming in and money would be going out and you wouldn’t have to wait around to get pothole money. It was always present. After I left the Council they did away with it. And look what’s happened. Look at the potholes that are out there. And I tried – I took care of that. And I left the Council and they did that.

I never did earmarks. I never took advantage. I’ve never done anything — you know on their campaign finance, they’re doing that loophole on the LLCs. Both of them are doing that, her more than him. But they passed a law saying with the public outcry about how a company, a corporation can divide itself into all these subsidiaries and then they each can give – it’s the same owner – can give $20,000 instead of the $2,000 maximum. And they passed a law saying it should be banned. But they made sure the law didn’t go into effect until January of 2015 when this election is over.

And so they could have said that was a good law we passed. I’m going to abide by that law even though it’s not required. I’m doing that. Leaders have to lead by example. And I’m doing that. And I’ve not had another job that could be really considered a conflict. MC Dean has street light contracts. They have all those streetcars. Look at the kind of money they are going to make in streetcars. David in his platform has called for the full expansion of the streetcars as originally proposed. He has said well I didn’t vote for those individual contracts of MC Dean. I would always recuse myself. But yet he voted for the budget. And the budget had that money for them in it.

And there’s nothing about me and my career that has ever – ever – done anything which is a conflict. So you need to be concerned about lots of issues. And you also have to have someone who gets along with people, who is able to work with everyone, who can actually disagree without being disagreeable or not speaking to people for huge periods of time. That’s not going to be helpful as we need to go out and make friends so we can get our full voting rights, have our full budget autonomy, have our full legislative autonomy. We need to make friends. And I have a long history of making lots of friends.

 

Blade: In terms of the campaign, you initially were accused of being a stalking horse for Muriel Bowser but then –

Schwartz: But that was ridiculous. That was him. He started that rumor the first day I got out. Go check it out. That’s what he said playing the victim.

 

Blade: But one poll recently shows you are –

Schwartz: Of course, I’m taking more votes from her than even him…So I’m running to win the election. I’m running to siphon off votes from both of them and also the other three who are in the race. I’m really in it to win it. And that means siphoning off votes from everybody who were in it before I came in it.

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Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court

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Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Human Rights Campaign’s ex-president sues over termination, alleges racial discrimination

Alphonso David alleges he was terminated unfitly

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Alphonso David, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign terminated by the board after he was ensnared in the Gov. Andrew Cuomo scandal, sued the nation’s leading LGBTQ group on Thursday, arguing he was fired as a result of racial discrimination “amid a deserved reputation for unequal treatment of its non-white employees” and was explicitly told he was paid less because he’s Black.

David, speaking with the Washington Blade on Thursday during a phone interview, said he came to the decision to file the lawsuit after practicing civil rights law for 20 years and “never thought that I would be a plaintiff.”

“But I’m in this chair, I was put in this position,” David said. “And as a civil rights lawyer, I couldn’t look the other way. It would be anathema to who I am and it would undermine my integrity and purpose for the work that I do. And so I have to go through and make a very, very difficult personal decision to file this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses the Human Rights Campaign of violating new state and federal laws for terminating David, who was the organization’s first person of color and Black person to helm the LGBTQ group in its 40-year history. The lawsuit also contends the Human Rights Campaign contravened equal pay law in New York by paying David less than his predecessor, Chad Griffin.

After a public dispute with the board in September amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair, the Human Rights Campaign boards unceremoniously fired David and shortly afterward announced a still ongoing search for a new president. David was named nearly a dozen times in the damning report by New York Attorney General Letitia James, suggesting David assisted in efforts by Cuomo’s staff to discredit a woman alleging sexual misconduct in Cuomo’s office. David has consistently denied wrongdoing.

But the lawsuit is broader than the termination and describes an environment at the Human Rights Campaign, which has faced criticism over the years for being geared toward white gay men, as a workplace where “non-white staffers were marginalized, tokenized, and denied advancement to high-level positions.” After a speech David gave on issues of race and indifference in the context of HRC’s mission, the lawsuit claims a board member complained about him referring too much to being Black, but faced no penalty from the organization.

Specifically named in the report is Chris Speron, Senior Vice President of Development, who expressed concern about “alienating” white donors and specifically “white gay men” after David issued a statement on the importance of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. The lawsuit claims Speron pushed David to “stop mentioning in his public statements and remove from his bio the fact that he was HRC’s first Black President in its history.” Speron also was critical of hiring a Black-owned consulting firm and “criticized a Black staff member for attending a meeting with the consulting firm without a white person present,” the lawsuit claims. Speron couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.

In terms of equal pay, the lawsuit says HRC’s co-chairs informed David he was underpaid compared to his predecessor because he’s Black. But the lawsuit also acknowledges in 2021, just before news broke about the Cuomo report, the Human Rights Campaign in recognition of David’s work renewed his contract for five additional years and gave him a 30 percent raise.

David, speaking with the Blade, said he was in “shock” upon experiencing these alleged incidents of racism, maintaining he had kept quiet at the time out of concern for the greater good of the aims of the Human Rights Campaign.

Asked whether as president he considered implementing racial sensitivity trainings for his subordinates, David said “yes,” but added many trainings aren’t effective and said the power in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign is often spread out.

“There are people within the organization that have a fair amount of board support because they bring in the money because they are responsible for overseeing the money,” David added.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed the organization is “disappointed that Alphonso David has chosen to take retaliatory action against the Human Rights Campaign for his termination which resulted from his own actions.”

“Mr. David’s complaint is riddled with untruths,” Madison said. “We are confident through the legal process that it will be apparent that Mr. David’s termination was based on clear violations of his contract and HRC’s mission, and as president of HRC, he was treated fairly and equally.”

Madison adds the individuals accused of racism in the lawsuit “are people of color and champions of racial equity and inclusion who provided support and guidance as Mr. David led the organization,” without naming any specific individual. The boards for the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation who made the decision to terminate David, were comprised of seven independent directors, five of whom were Black.

The racist environment, the lawsuit says, culminated for David in September 2021 amid an independent investigation of his role in the Cuomo affair conducted by the law firm Sidley Austin LLP at the behest of the organization. According to the lawsuit, the board co-chairs contacted David late at night before Labor Day weekend to tell him to resign by 8 a.m. the next morning or be terminated for cause. When David asked whether the Sidley Austin investigation had made any findings against him, or if a report would be issued explaining what he was accused of doing wrong, the board co-chairs refused to say, the lawsuit says.

As is publicly known, David declined to resign and took to Twitter to complain about the board, which subsequently issued a statement disputing his claims. He was then fired “for cause” under his contract.

The termination, the lawsuit says, signified differential treatment of David because he is Black, taking note the Human Rights Campaign under his predecessor had “endured repeated, serious, scandals — many of which involved HRC’s mistreatment of Black and other marginalized individuals,” but Chad Griffin was never terminated “for cause.”

Both the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board and the Human Rights Campaign board voted to terminate David. A source familiar with the vote said no one voted “no” in either case. The campaign board vote was unanimous and there were two abstentions in the foundation board vote, the source said.

The source familiar with the vote said David never told the Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his time as HRC president nor did he disclose he was talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit says David “performed extremely well as HRC president, by any measure,” navigating the organization through the coronavirus epidemic and boosting fundraising by 60 percent. (The Blade has not yet verified this claim.) It should be noted the Human Rights Campaign cited coronavirus as the reason it laid off 22 employees, as reported at the time by the Blade.

David, asked by the Blade how he sees the alleged racist culture at Human Rights Campaign infused in his termination, said “Black and Brown people are treated differently and have been for years in this organization,” citing a “Pipeline Report” leaked to the press in 2015 documenting an environment in which employees of color were unable to thrive.

“And so, the fact that I’m being treated differently now, in the fact that a different standard is being applied to me is just simply consistent with what they’ve always done,” David said. “You know, we go back to the Pipeline Report: Imagine if I was leading the organization at the time, and there was a report that was issued, that said that anti-Semitic remarks were being made within the organization, and that women were being discriminated against within the organization or some other marginalized group and that one of the senior vice presidents used a derogatory remark. Do you think I would still be at the organization or would they have fired me?”

David concluded: “There’s a different standard and a double standard that they’ve applied for decades, and I’ve just now been one casualty — another in a long series of casualties based on their systemic bias and discrimination.”

Among the requests in the prayer for relief in the complaint is a declaration the Human Rights Campaign’s actions violated the law; restoration of David to his position as president; an award of the compensation he would have received were he still on the job as well as punitive damages. Asked by the Blade whether any settlement talks have taken place, David said that wasn’t the case and pointed out the lawsuit was recently filed.

Legal experts who spoke to the Blade have doubted the validity of a review by Sidley Austin on the basis it was among the legal firms agreeing in 2019 to help with the Human Rights Campaign entering into litigation to advance LGBTQ rights, an agreement David spearheaded upon taking the helm of the organization.

David, in response to a question from the Blade, said the independent investigation into his role in the Cuomo affair “is a sham and I believe it was a sham,” citing the lack of transparency of findings.

“One of the first instances that caused me concern,” David said, “is I suggested to the organization that we conduct an independent review, and they came back to me and said, ‘Here’s our press release history,’ and the press release never mentioned that I actually suggested that they do this review. And when I challenged them on that, they told me that they thought it would be better for the press to review a complaint or receive a statement that showed that they were bringing this investigation as opposed to I’m recommending and push back even more. And then they said ‘Well, we will put in the statement that you are cooperating.’ So from the very beginning, they were not honest about what they were actually doing.”

Representing David in the lawsuit is the Chicago-based employment law firm Stowell & Friedman, Ltd. and and Chicago-based attorney Matt Singer. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano, a George W. Bush appointee, an informed source familiar with the case said.

The lawsuit was filed in New York as opposed to D.C. because David is a New York resident and much of the discriminatory behavior took place in New York, the source said. The pay disparity alleged in the lawsuit is expressed in percentages as oppose to hard numbers pursuant to rules for the judiciary in New York, the source added.

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