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Amid change, LGBT Cubans face lingering challenges

Independent advocates slam Mariela Castro as a ‘fraud’

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Mi Cayito, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade
Mi Cayito, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Hundreds attended a state-sponsored party on May 17 at Mi Cayito, a gay beach east of the Cuban capital, to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

HAVANA — The sun had already set over the Florida Straits on May 13 by the time Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay journalist and advocate, and Miguel Angel Plasencia Rodríguez arrived at a section of Havana’s Malecón, an oceanfront promenade, near the iconic Hotel Nacional that is a popular late-night gathering place for LGBT Cubans.

Musicians were playing conga drums and guitars along the oceanfront promenade as couples danced salsa and street venders sold candy, soft drinks and flowers. Rodríguez was wearing a rainbow Pride bracelet as he wrapped his arm around Plasencia’s and held his hand.

“To sit on the Malecón as a couple like any other is one of those daily acts of love in Cuba that may not have been so easy five or 10 years ago for gay people,” Rodríguez told the Washington Blade. “It’s not that it was specifically prohibited, but the looks of disapproval and perhaps even some unfounded police action most likely would have been brought against us for this ‘exhibitionism.’”

LGBT Cubans over the last decade have become increasingly visible as efforts to extend rights to them have gained traction.

Transgender people have been able to obtain free sex-reassignment surgery under Cuba’s national health care system since 2008. Adela Hernández in 2012 became the first openly trans person to hold public office on the island when she became a member of the Caibarién Municipal Council.

The country’s lawmakers in late 2013 approved a proposal that banned anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who directs the National Center for Sexual Education, which is part of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, has publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington last month accepted Mariela Castro’s formal invitation to travel to Cuba in July and perform with a gay chorus in Havana.

These positions and overtures stand in stark contrast to the treatment of LGBT people in the years following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Then-President Fidel Castro in the 1960s sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production or the Spanish acronym UMAP. Cuba repealed its sodomy law in 1979, but trans people continued to face persecution.

Hernández spent two years in prison in the 1980s for what the Associated Press described as “dangerousness” because of her gender identity. The Cuban government forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Fidel Castro during a 2010 interview with a Mexican newspaper described the persecution of gay Cubans that included sending them to work camps in the years following the revolution as a “great injustice.”

Independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates and their supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere insist the government continues to persecute those who criticize it through arbitrary detentions, the enforcement of public assembly laws and social isolation. The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana that President Obama announced late last year has done little to temper these criticisms inside Cuba and abroad.

 

Part of a ‘marvelous island’

Mariela Castro Espín, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHAT

Mariela Castro has championed a number of LGBT initiatives in Cuba over the last decade, but has been criticized by some for not doing more. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mariela Castro has publicly championed a number of LGBT-specific initiatives in the Communist country over the last decade through the National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX. One source with whom the Blade spoke in Cuba said she is expanding upon the work that her late mother, Vilma Espín, began on behalf of LGBT Cubans when she was president of the Cuban Federation of Women.

CENESEX over the last eight years has organized a series of events in Havana and across the country to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Pastors from the U.S. and Canada on May 9 blessed the relationships of 20 Cuban same-sex couples in Havana during a series of events marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Singer Thelma Houston also performed.

Mariela Castro a week later led a march through Las Tunas, a provincial capital about 410 miles southeast of Havana, to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

She ran under a large rainbow flag after stepping out of a gray van and joined her supporters who had gathered on Las Tunas’ main street before they and hundreds of others marched to the center of the city. Two CENESEX-affiliated advocates placed a wreath of flowers and palm fronds from the organization under a statue of Vicente García, a leading figure in the 10 Years’ War from 1868-1878 during which Cubans fought for Independence from Spain, that noted its events commemorating the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Mariela Castro paid homage to García in a brief ceremony before speaking to her supporters. A handful of journalists and photographers from Cuba and the U.S. were also present.

“We are working for the social participation of everyone,” said Mariela Castro during her speech.

Mariela Castro did not speak to journalists after her remarks, but she greeted supporters at a community fair that featured CENESEX-affiliated LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups from Las Tunas and Havana. Dozens of dancers, musicians and other performers took to the stage at Las Tunas’ main theater before a CENESEX party with drag queens and dancers took place at Cabaret Taíno, a local nightclub.

Restaurants and other businesses in Las Tunas hung signs supporting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. These included a CENESEX poster in a local food stall that read “homosexuality is not a danger” and a picture inside a nearby home that depicted gay and lesbian families.

More than half a dozen gay men and a drag queen who took a horse-drawn cart from Cabaret Taíno around 3:15 a.m. on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia — did little to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity to the two drivers and passersby. They were among the hundreds of people who drank beers and rum at an after-party that was taking place at a bar on the outskirts of Las Tunas.

“We are part of the marvelous island of Cuba,” said Morgot, a drag queen who performed at Cabaret Taíno during the CENESEX party.

Mercedes García, a Havana resident who is a member of the CENESEX-affiliated Humanity for Diversity Network, told the Blade after the Las Tunas march she feels the events around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia provide “open spaces where we can share among ourselves independent of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“It is more important to see the support for the large community…from the government,” said García.

Gala, a Havana-based drag queen and HIV/AIDS educator who performs at Humboldt 52, a gay bar near the Hotel Nacional, was quick to applaud Mariela Castro and CENESEX during a May 13 interview with the Blade. She performed earlier in the evening before highlighting a campaign to fight HIV among men who have sex with men that featured colorful balloon animals engaging in sexual activity.

Gala also traveled to Las Tunas to take part in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorations.

“We are seeing advances thanks to Mariela Castro and CENESEX,” Gala told the Blade. “They give us a chance.”

Rodríguez and other supporters of CENESEX and Mariela Castro concede that homophobia, transphobia and anti-LGBT discrimination remain problems on the island.

Frank Padrón, a prominent gay theater critic who has a weekly show on Cuban television, told the Blade during an impromptu interview on a street near the Riviera Movie Theater in Havana’s sprawling Vedado neighborhood on May 13 that police continue to harass trans people and cross-dressers who they suspect are sex workers. He said that CENESEX and “individual activists have worked to change this.”

“We are not yet a society that is free from homophobia,” said Padrón. “We are not satisfied.”

Mariela Castro and her supporters who marched with her in Las Tunas sought to frame the expansion of LGBT rights on the island as a continuation of the revolution that toppled then-President Fulgencio Batista and brought Fidel Castro to power nearly six decades ago.

Marchers chanted “yes to Socialism, no to homophobia” as they worked their way through the provincial capital. A large banner containing a picture of Fidel Castro against the backdrop of the Cuban flag with a slogan reading “We will defend this flag, this sky and this land at any cost” provided a backdrop for Mariela Castro’s speech.

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHAT, Cuba, Las Tunas, gay news, Washington Blade

Participants in events to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Las Tunas, Cuba, on May 16, 2015, carry a large rainbow flag through the streets of the provincial capital. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mariela Castro is ‘a fraud’

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, stands outside his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 15, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Cuban advocates who work independently of CENESEX have a vastly different opinion of Mariela Castro, her father’s government and the state of LGBT rights on the Communist island.

Nearly 20 LGBT advocates and independent journalists spoke with the Blade at the home of Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights in the city of Cienfuegos on May 15.

A poster reading, “Mariela Castro is a fraud” with the acronym CENESEX crossed out in a rainbow-colored circle hung prominently next to the entrance of Gandulla’s home as the advocates spoke. A gay flag was flying outside in the front yard that overlooks one of Cienfuegos’ main streets.

Gandulla told the Blade that more than a dozen independent LGBT rights advocates from across the country are members of his organization that he founded last year. He said his group’s primary mission is to “defend the rights of the LGBTI community in Cuba” and to speak out against anti-LGBT discrimination.

“We come together in this sense as the entire LGBTI community in Cuba, regardless of ideology, regardless of belief, regardless of who you are,” said Gandulla.

Gandulla told the Blade that Mariela Castro declined to take part in a June march in Havana to commemorate Pride month.

He also questioned the effectiveness of her efforts to build support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Maykel González Vivero, a gay blogger who is a member of Proyecto Arcoiris, another independent LGBT advocacy organization, told the Blade during an interview at his apartment in the city of Sagua la Grande on May 17 that Mariela Castro previously said that Cuba is “not ready for marriage.”

“She did this as though she was speaking on behalf of the LGBTI community,” said González. “Clearly, as is frequently the case in Cuba, she speaks on behalf of everyone and does not consult with anyone.”

Tanía García Hernández of the LGBTI Help Line, which is based in the province of Villa Clara, told the Blade as she attended the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights meeting in Cienfuegos with her son Leandro that CENESEX only “answers to the government.”

“It is one more office of the government,” said García. “It corresponds with the objectives of the government and she (Mariela Castro) is there.”

Many of the independent LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke insisted that fewer than 30 trans Cubans have been able to receive sex-reassignment surgery. Navid Fernández Cabrera, president of Proyecto Shui Tuix, an independent LGBT advocacy group named for one of the gay parties he organized in the Cuban capital in 2008, told the Blade during a May 14 interview in his one-bedroom apartment in Havana’s 10 de Octubre neighborhood that CENESEX subjects potential candidates to a lengthy screening process that includes meeting psychologists and other health care professionals.

“It’s not a lot,” said Fernández.

Fernández and five advocates who are affiliated with his organization spoke with the Blade for nearly two hours about Mariela Castro, CENESEX and the harassment and discrimination they said they have experienced.

Leosbel Heredia Azafares, a cross-dressing sex worker who goes by the nickname Doris la Exploradora (Doris the Explorer in English) when he works in Havana’s Carlos III area that trans prostitutes frequent, told the Blade that Cuban police officers routinely harass him and others known as jineteros or jineteras in Cuban Spanish by taking their money and forcing them to have sex with them. Hand-painted red signs along the National Highway in the city of Camagüey read “no prostitution” and “no illegal activities” without providing any specifics.

“Trans life is not recognized on the part of the police,” said Heredia, who presented himself as a man while at Fernández’s apartment.

Fidel Malvarais Pelegrino, 24, who represents Proyecto Shui Tuix in the city of Santiago de Cuba, said authorities detained him last June for seven days because he was in Havana without permission from the government. Marino López Borell, 28, who lives in the San Miguel del Padrón area of Havana, told the Blade the police stopped him and his Cuban American partner who lives in Florida last year while they were along a dark portion of the Malecón.

“The police officer only wanted money and wanted sex,” said López.

“CENESEX does not care about these stories,” added Fernández.

Juana Mora Cedeño, a member of Proyecto Arcoiris who met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress in February at the home of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, told the Blade during an interview at a colleague’s home in Vedado that there are few “spaces” for LGBT Cubans to gather freely.

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora Cedeño, a member of Proyecto Arcoiris, met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in Havana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBT-specific events take place at bars and clubs throughout Havana, but Mora said the government operates many of them.

Hundreds of people on May 17 attended a state-sponsored party at Mi Cayito, a gay beach east of the Cuban capital, to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. A small, tattered gay flag was flying over the beach when the Blade visited it the following day, but Mora and other independent LGBT advocates said police have previously conducted raids there.

A police officer was sitting under a thatched umbrella on May 18, casually talking to men who rent chairs to beachgoers and bring them food and drinks from a restaurant adjacent to Mi Cayito’s parking lot.

A picture that González posted to his blog on the same day shows two Cuban police officers at an LGBT rights march in the city of Santa Clara that he said were “apparently” there to “provide security.” Fernández and other independent advocates told the Blade that authorities have also sought to intimidate those who attend their events that are not authorized by the government.

“We are not included in any governmental organization or any party,” said Gandulla. “What happens is that none of the official people, like Mariela Castro, want to work with us.”

González said he has faced harassment at the state-run radio station in Sagua la Grande where he works because of his public criticism over the omission of statistics from the 2012 Cuban Census that noted the number of same-sex couples who live together in the country. He told the Blade that CENESEX did not invite him and other independent advocates to a 2014 conference in the beach resort of Varadero that drew hundreds of LGBT rights advocates from across the Americas and the Caribbean.

González and other independent advocates have also questioned how the government will enforce the law that bans anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.

“There is a risk of quickly falling into a sort of social isolation zone,” González told the Blade. “People quickly assume that you are a dangerous person because you are someone who asks questions.”

Gandulla said that members of his group are “very afraid” of the Cuban government. He added it is “very dangerous” for them to criticize Mariela Castro or any other member of her father’s government during interviews with foreign journalists.

“It is only dangerous for us to meet with you because we don’t agree (with the government),” said García.

Neither Mariela Castro, nor CENESEX responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the criticisms that García, Gandulla, González, Fernández and other independent advocates made against them. Manuel Vázquez Seijido, a lawyer who is a senior CENESEX staffer, last month during a speech at a global LGBT rights conference at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, N.J., dismissed those who publicly oppose his organization and the Castro government.

“Their goal is to simply criticize institutions like CENESEX and, of course, the Cuban government,” said Vázquez in response to a Blade question on the issue.

Rodríguez in an email to the Blade on Tuesday acknowledged there are independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates who are “honest people” who “want to advance their own projects without the tensions that working within the political commitment to the framework of a state institution entails.” He nevertheless described the activists who continue to criticize CENESEX and Mariela Castro as “not truly independent.”

“They only follow the instructions in a disciplined manner from the centers of power in the United States and other countries that don’t accept the possibility of an alternative policy to capitalism,” Rodríguez told the Blade. “They finance whatever force or individual that makes it easier for them to achieve their goals of destabilizing the country.”

Rodríguez did not provide any additional comment on the specific groups in the U.S. and elsewhere that he believes provide funding to the Cuban LGBT advocates who criticize the government. His assertion is a common one among Mariela Castro’s supporters when asked about Cuban LGBT rights advocates who publicly criticize her and CENESEX.

Herb Sosa, a first-generation Cuban American who is president of the Unity Coalition, a Miami-based LGBT advocacy group, in 2013 blasted Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin’s decision to honor Mariela Castro at his organization’s annual dinner in Philadelphia. Sosa and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who was born in Cuba, both criticized CENESEX’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to hold an international LGBT rights conference in Havana.

“Unfortunately, and we all wish this to be different, the LGBT community has little to no rights of free speech, right to congregate, march or speak against the government,” said Sosa, noting Cubans also have limited access to the Internet. “The list goes on.”

Robyn Ochs, a bisexual advocate and writer who is a member of the MassEquality board of directors, attended the LGBT rights conference in Varadero in 2013.

She acknowledged lingering concerns over Cuba’s human rights record that include a lack of freedom of speech on the island. Ochs also noted to the Blade that “like all political figures,” Mariela Castro, has “said and done things over time that are problematic,” but she insists her support of LGBT Cubans is “crystal clear.”

“Things are clearly moving in a positive direction,” said Ochs. “There is a great deal that is possible in Cuba now that was not possible a decade ago.”

Ros-Lehtinen in a statement to the Blade reiterated her long-standing criticisms of Mariela Castro and her father’s government.

“While Mariela Castro and the Cuban regime try to make the farcical case that they are LGBT-friendly, the reality the reality of their hostility to anyone who does not share their radical, Communist ideology is much harsher and well-documented,” said the Florida Republican who is an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights. “Interestingly, in its bid to promote its supposed LGBT record, the Castro regime has only spotlighted those who do not object to the regime’s history of repression. Sadly, any Cuban, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, who disagrees with the Castro brothers is subject to the same acts of repudiation, arrest and imprisonment that has characterized these tyrants’ rule.”

 

Impact of normalized relations unclear

 

Cuba’s LGBT rights movement is growing more visible as the process to normalize relations between Washington and Havana that President Obama began late last year continues to move forward.

The fourth round of talks between the two countries took place last week in Washington.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and State Department spokesperson Marie Harf both acknowledged to the Blade on May 22 that the treatment of independent LGBT advocates and other aspects of Cuba’s human rights record remain serious concerns for the U.S. as efforts to normalize relations with the Communist country continue.

“Human rights remain a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, including our approach to Cuba,” a State Department spokesperson told the Blade on Tuesday.

Cuban LGBT rights advocates remain mixed as to whether the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana will have a positive impact on their lives.

Mariela Castro last December described the prospect of normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S. as a “dream come true” during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

She called upon human rights advocates to urge Washington to end its decades-long embargo against her country, which a billboard near Havana’s José Martí International Airport describes as “the world’s longest running genocide.” Signs with nearly identical slogans are a common sight throughout the country.

Mariela Castro once again spoke out against it during the Havana commemoration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. She also celebrated the release of three of the so-called “Cuban Five” — intelligence officers from the Communist island who had been in federal prisons — as part of the agreement to begin normalizing relations with the U.S. that included the release of Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development who had been held in a Cuban prison for five years after authorities arrested him for connecting a local Jewish community to the Internet.

“The embargo is the main obstacle to our development plan and for the guarantee of our rights, including the rights of LGBTI people,” she said.

López told the Blade that he feels the Cuban government uses the embargo as an “excuse” for the country’s ailing economy, poor infrastructure, food shortages and other problems — the power went out for about five minutes as he and others spoke with the Blade inside Fernández’s apartment. Raúl Márques, a gay man who works in the arts in Havana, said the average Cuban is focused more on meeting their basic needs as opposed to the status of relations between their country and the U.S.

“People here have had many problems,” he told the Blade. “You are not going to think about other things in your life.”

González shared an equally pessimistic view, joking sarcastically that the Cuban people have a “very special” relationship that dates back to the 19th century. He further noted he is “not an optimistic man.”

“It is an issue that almost nobody talks about,” said González, referring to the prospect of closer ties between Washington and Havana. “It is not in people’s daily conversation.”

Gala told the Blade after performing at Humboldt 52 in Havana that normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba will have no impact on her daily life, even though she said the country is “entering a beautiful moment.”

Mora said she hopes closer ties between Havana and Washington will help ease some of the problems that Cubans continue to face because of the island’s economic situation. She also expressed optimism for the future of her organization and other independent LGBT advocates on the island.

“All of us are agents of change,” said Mora. “I believe that if we all believe in something, we can change 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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