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Damning N.Y. AG report on Cuomo ensnares HRC president

The damning report finding New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo violated the law by barring sexually harassing as many as 11 women on his staff has ensnared the president of the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign.

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hate crimes, gay news, Washington Blade

The damning report finding New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo violated the law by sexually harassing as many as 11 women on his staff has ensnared the president of the nation’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign.

Although David insists the report does not indicate any wrongdoing on his behalf, the findings indicate after his tenure as counselor to Cuomo, that he kept the personnel file for an employee within the office accusing the governor of sexual misconduct, then assisted in efforts to leak that file to the media in an attempt to discredit her.

Further, the report finds David allegedly said he would help find individuals to sign their names to a draft op-ed that sought to discredit the survivor, but went unpublished, although he wouldn’t sign the document himself. Also, the report indicates David was involved in the discussions about another staffer secretly calling and recording a call between a former staffer and another survivor in a separate effort to smear her.

The explosive report from New York Attorney General Letitia James sent shockwaves when it came out Tuesday at a time when the country is still grappling with the treatment of women in the workplace after the “Me Too” movement, prompting fellow Democrats — including President Biden — to call on Cuomo to resign. Cuomo has denied the conclusions of the report and not given any indication he’ll step down from his position as governor.

Nearly a dozen references are made in the report to David, who prior to his tenure as president of the Human Rights Campaign served as counsel for Cuomo. In fact, the report came out on the two-year anniversary of David’s joining the Human Rights Campaign after his time in public service for the State of New York.

Following the issuing of the report on Tuesday, David joined the chorus of high-profile individuals calling on Cuomo to resign as governor. David tweeted, “After reading the AG’s devastating report that concluded Gov. Cuomo engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, in violation of both federal and state law, he should resign.” The tweet, however, ignores his mentions in the findings or alleged participation in discrediting sexual harassment survivors.

Criticism of David emerged from both the right and left in the aftermath of the report at a time when morale among many in the LGBTQ movement is low amid states advancing and enacting anti-transgender legislation and inaction on the Equality Act in Congress.

The Human Rights Campaign itself has had significant turnover, including in the communications department. Last year, the organization laid off 22 employees, citing the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the latest IRS 990 for the organization revealed former president Chad Griffin and David drew combined compensation of more than $825,000 in fiscal year 2019. (From January-August 2019, Griffin earned $570,446 plus $18,771 in other compensation; David earned $229,332 and $7,016 in other compensation for the balance of that year after taking over the job.)

David, responding to the report on Cuomo in an email to board members of the Human Rights Campaign and in a phone interview late Tuesday with the Washington Blade, is standing firm in denying any wrongdoing.

In the email to board members, David said the findings “are beyond comprehension to me and they break my heart as a former employee,” referencing the tweet he made calling for Cuomo to resign but also addressing the sections pertaining to himself. David confirmed the accuracy of the email to the Blade.

Maintaining he “had no knowledge of the allegations of harassment outlined in the report,” David said he informed the board of ignorance on the issue “earlier this year” and except for one person, he doesn’t know any survivors referenced in the report. Further, David said that one person “never disclosed” any allegations of sexual misconduct. David discloses his “substantive engagement” with this survivor “involved an investigation of her regarding allegations of racial discrimination by other employees.”

“A final conclusion was ultimately memorialized in a privileged and confidential memo drafted and retained by counsel’s office,” David writes. “After initially being unable to find the file, the Governor’s office requested a copy of the electronic memo from me which I provided (as I am required to do as a former counsel) but my copy was subsequently not relied on because the office found the full official file.”

Addressing the unpublished op-ed intended to discredit the survivor, David writes Cuomo’s office “had reached out to many former employees requesting that we sign a letter supporting the Governor and the office,” but he “declined to sign the letter and it was never released.”

Speaking with the Blade, David confirmed the survivor whom he knows is Lindsey Boylan, a former senior staffer for Cuomo, who was among the first to accuse him of sexual misconduct in the workplace last year.

Meanwhile, the board of the Human Rights Campaign has shown no sign of turning on David. In fact, HRC announced it renewed David’s contract on his two-year anniversary for five more years.

Morgan Cox, chair of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors, and Jodie Patterson, chair of the non-profit Human Rights Campaign Foundation board of directors in a joint statement to the Washington Blade affirmed both boards “have full confidence in Alphonso David as president of the organization.”

“In recognition of his extraordinary leadership during extremely challenging times, we were proud to extend his contract to stay on in his role for five more years,” Cox and Patterson said. “For the last two years he has been boldly leading the organization as it works to achieve its mission: full equality for all LGBTQ people, in the midst of a global pandemic, a nationwide reckoning on racial justice, and the most important presidential election of our lifetimes.”

Speaking with the Blade, David also said he has no intention of stepping down from his position as president of the Human Rights Campaign voluntarily.

“This is my life’s work,” David said. “I’ve been a civil rights lawyer for 20 years. This is what I’ve been doing, this is what I did in government. I wrote the marriage equality law. I drafted the Paid Family Leave Law, drafted the minimum wage law, drafted regulations to prohibit discrimination against trans people. This is my life’s work. So, I intend to continue the work that I’ve been doing because the work of marginalized communities, the work to actually represent marginalized communities is too important.”

David’s role in the report stems mostly from the situation with Boylan. According to the report, Cuomo commented on her attractiveness, including comparing her to a former girlfriend; physically touched her on various parts of her body, including her waist, legs, and back; made inappropriate comments, including saying to her once on a plane, words to the effect of, “let’s play strip poker”; and kissed her on the cheeks and, on one occasion, on the lips.

After Boylan went public, the report says Cuomo’s aides “actively engaged in an effort to discredit her” as a survivor. Among the efforts cited in the report are “disseminating to the press confidential internal documents that painted her in a negative light and circulating among a group of current and former Executive Chamber employees (although not ultimately publishing) a proposed op-ed or letter disparaging Ms. Boylan that the Governor personally participated in drafting.”

David is mentioned in the report both during his tenure as counsel to Cuomo and during his time as Human Rights Campaign president. As part of a workplace conflict in 2018 noted in the report as unrelated to the sexual harassment but otherwise not described, David in his capacity as counsel was charged with managing the situation, the report says. Boylan tendered her resignation from the governor’s office. David, in his capacity as counsel, asked to create a file on Boylan and added the incident to her personnel file, according to the report.

After Boylan tweeted Cuomo is “one of the biggest abusers of all time” a secretary of Cuomo’s, Melissa DeRosa, reached out to David, who was serving as Human Rights Campaign president, on Dec. 9 for a request to see the “full file” for Boylan. David said another staffer would have the information in her possession and be able to provide the file. Days later, David sent files relating to his investigation into Boylan shortly before her departure from the governor’s office, the report says.

David is quoted in the report as saying he kept a copy of Boylan’s files because it “may have been the only instance where [he] was actually involved in a counseling of an employee when [he] was in the Executive Chamber.”

It’s not immediately clear whether David keeping a confidential personnel file of an employee after leaving the workplace violates any laws. A New York State Bar Association spokesperson said the organization has “no ethics opinion on this issue.”

The report, in a subsequent section, continues to address the personnel file from which Cuomo’s office distributed unflattering information about Boylan, saying it came from “counsel’s office,” suggesting the information, at the end of the day, didn’t come from David.

A connection between David and Boylan comes up again in the report in a discussion about a potential op-ed from Cuomo’s office that was intended to discredit Boylan, but was never published. The report says David signaled he wouldn’t be among the signatories of the letter, but would help gather signatures. According to a footnote in the report, DeRosa told other former staff members whom she had asked to sign the letter David said he would sign the letter “if we need him.”

David, commenting on the unpublished op-ed when speaking with the Blade, said there were multiple iterations of the document in a draft form. Although one version was focused on more positive aspects of the workplace under Cuomo, David said another was more focused on Boylan and he wouldn’t sign it.

“I wasn’t willing to sign it because it included facts I couldn’t verify,” David said. “I was not aware of it. I wasn’t personally involved and had no personal knowledge, so I refused to sign the letter and I think everybody else did.”

David comes up in the report in the description of another survivor’s account of Cuomo’s alleged sexual misconduct, identified in the report by her first name Kaitlin.

After coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations, Kaitlin says she suspected she would be smeared for going forward, the report says. True to her predictions, Cuomo allegedly attempted to call her and surreptitiously record her, but nothing came of the effort, the report says.

David and other Cuomo staffers were involved in the internal discussion of plans to call Kaitlin and secretly record her in an effort to defame her, according to the report.

David, speaking with the Blade, said he doesn’t deny that aspect of the report, but his role in the conversation about Kaitlin was limited and pertained to his duties as counsel to Cuomo.

“In that instance, it was simply asking me, in my role as a former counsel what the law was, not the context,” David said.

Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, was among those seizing on the report as evidence corporate donors should reconsider their support for the Human Rights Campaign.

“It should disturb every corporate donor to the HRC that its president Alphonso David colluded with Gov. Cuomo to smear one of the women Cuomo sexually harassed,” Moran said. “Alphonso David’s behavior is disqualifying and he should resign immediately, but the fault doesn’t just lie with him. The Human Rights Campaign markets itself as champions for LGBT Americans. In reality, it champions left-wing Democrats – apparently even those guilty of sexual harassment – and bullies anyone who gets in their way.”

Max Micallef, a queer rights activist who serves on the Advisory Council of EqualityNY and as the Public Policy Coordinator with GLSEN Lower Hudson Valley, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for both Cuomo and David to resign.

“We all deserve so much better,” Micallef said. “The LGBTQ+ community does not stand for this level of complicity and cowardice. Along with Gov. Cuomo himself, Director McMorrow and President David must step down from their positions immediately as they have clearly failed to represent the interests of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, and advocate against their systemic violence.”

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Swiss voters overwhelmingly approve marriage equality law

‘Marriage for All’ statute received 64 percent support in referendum

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(Photo public domain)

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Swiss voters supported the “Marriage for All” law by a 64-36 percent margin in the referendum.

Lawmakers approved the statue late last year. Marriage equality opponents were able to force a referendum on it.

Switzerland joins neighboring France, Germany, Austria and other European countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Maria von Känel, co-president of the “Marriage for All” campaign, described the referendum results as “a historic day, a milestone for LGBTQ equality.”

“It’s a great achievement,” she told the Washington Blade. “All cantons and 64.1 percent of Swiss voters have voted yes for marriage for all. Our partnerships and families are now recognized equally and legally.”

“We have great support of the family, children and human rights organizations and many thousands of people who took to the streets for this cause and did public work,” added von Känel. “We are infinitely grateful.”

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Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland

‘They nearly killed me’

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Juniper Simonis (Photo by Mariah Harris)

It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.  

But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said. 

“They nearly killed me,” they said.

Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies. 

There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot. 

Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.” 

“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said. 

The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said. 

“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said. 

Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace. 

Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said. 

Wallace, Juniper Simonis’ service dog. (Photo by Mariah Harris)

Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos. 

“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said. 

Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody. 

Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit. 

A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said. 

Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.   

In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism. 

Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”  

“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.

The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said. 

The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well. 

Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.  

The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said. 

“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”

Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said. 

“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.” 

The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well. 

“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said. 

Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said. 

“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”

Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.

“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”

Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.

Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis,  even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said. 

“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added. 

“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”

With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process. 

“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said. 

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Activistas LGBTQ en Chile quieren llegar al Congreso

Se realizarán las elecciones el 21 de noviembre

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(Foto de cortesía)

SANTIAGO DE CHILE — El miércoles comenzó legalmente en Chile el periodo de campaña electoral que permite a los candidatos pedir el voto y difundir sus propuestas ya que el 21 de noviembre los chilenos deberán volver a las urnas para elegir a presidente, congresistas y consejeros regionales. 

Todo esto en medio de un año cargado de elecciones en ese país latinoamericano que atraviesa el proceso de transición política más importante en los últimos 30 años, donde hasta hay al menos 10 candidaturas LGBTQ en carrera. 

Los resultados de aquella elección vendrán acompañar el trabajo que viene realizando la Convención Constitucional, un órgano encargado de redactar la nueva Constitución y que en aquellas elecciones apuntó un triunfo histórico al elegir a nueve constituyentes abiertamente LGBTQ. 

Una victoria que activistas queer quieren llevar a los comicios de noviembre levantado sus propias candidaturas. Algunas de ellas, ya postularon en las pasadas elecciones y vienen por la revancha, pero está vez con la intención de llegar al Congreso y desde ahí contribuir a mejorar la calidad de vida de la población LGBTQ. 

Hasta ahora, ningún candidato fuera del closet ha sido electo.

“Sería fantástico que una persona de la diversidad sexual y género, llegará al Congreso en estas elecciones. Creemos que la presencia de alguien que sea parte de la comunidad y que tenga un vínculo más directo con los movimientos sociales, en particular con los que tienen que ver con diversidad sexual y de género nos podría ayudar muchísimo a instalar las necesidades”, mencionó al respecto la directora ejecutiva de Fundación Iguales, Isabel Amor. 

Actualmente Isabel Amor lidera Fundación Iguales, la organización LGBTQ aliada de Human Rights Campaign en Chile. (Foto de cortesía)

Para ella “es fundamental que, eventualmente, lleguemos al Congreso. Esto tiene que pasar ojalá lo más pronto posible, porque a nivel simbólico saber que una persona está en un lugar de poder para las personas de la diversidad sexual y de género, es algo tremendamente significativo después de décadas, décadas y décadas de que nos digan que no podemos estar en los lugares donde se toman las decisiones de nuestro país. Sería fantástico que alguien que es lesbiana, gay, bisexual o trans sea parte de este espacio”.

Según el Servicio Nacional de Elecciones (Servel) 15.030.963 de personas están habilitadas para participar del proceso: 14.959.945 electores en Chile y 71.018 en el extranjero.

Erika Montencinos (IND), una histórica activista lesbofeminista que postuló para ser diputada por el distrito 9, en la Región Metropolitana, dijo al Washington Blade que “decidí llevar adelante esta candidatura porque creo que es una oportunidad histórica para mis comunidades. Siento que nosotros necesitamos estar en estos espacios de poder y, como dice mi eslogan avanzar con nuestras propias voces”.

Para la activista Erika Montecinos el Congreso es un espacio para reivindicar los derechos de las mujeres, sobre todo de las que están fuera de la heteronorma. (Foto de Carolina Vargas)

“Llevo muchos años de trabajo con mi agrupación. La Agrupación Lésbica, Rompiendo el Silencio y para mí dar este paso es entrar a otro mundo. Pero sin embargo lo llevo con mucha alegría y teniendo muy claro que estoy representando a a mis compañeras y a tantas otras compañeras, que hemos sufrido la discriminación. Por eso es tan importante llegar a esos espacios de poder” comentó Montencinos sobre las razones de inscribir su candidatura. 

Constanza Valdés (Comunes), una conocida activista trans que lleva años trabajando como asesora legislativa competirá por el distrito 7 en la Región de Valparaíso. “Esta candidatura, la decidimos levantar a raíz del trabajo que venimos realizando hace años las organizaciones sociales en el mundo del activismo y especialmente por lo que significa también la representatividad de las personas trans”. 

La abogada Constanza Valdés fue una activista clave en la aprobación de la Ley de Identidad de Género y en otras iniciativas que han beneficiado a las personas trans. (Foto de cortesía)

“Representar un nuevo liderazgo y nuevas voces. Lo que significa una renovación de la política, un Congreso mucho más representativo, un Congreso que se asemeje a la realidad de las personas trans que existimos, las mujeres trans existimos y estamos en la política y pasamos por distintas etapas y vivencias que no son relatos que tienen que solamente deben contener los libros o los medios de comunicación, sino que con discursos políticos”, afirmó Valdés al Blade. 

Mientras que Rodrigo Mallea (Comunes),  activista no binario también buscará, al igual que Montencinos, conseguir un escaño por el distrito 9. 

“La verdad es que desde el estallido social y las revueltas que se concretó un gran cambio en la política y, además con el proceso constituyente se empezó a consolidar que este cambio era posible traducirlo en cambios materiales; reales y sustantivos para la gente”, relató al Blade. 

En los últimos meses Rodrigo Mallea ha instaurado y dado a conocer en el debate público la realidad de las personas no binarias. (Foto de cortesía)

“La posibilidad de vivir mejor, de conseguir un buen vivir y para que los derechos sociales no sean solamente cuestiones que están consagradas en el papel, sino nuestra realidad cotidiana”, explicó Mallea. 

“Por eso es que pienso que en el Congreso tiene que haber un cambio también, tiene que haber representación LGBT+ que hoy día es bastante escasa en todos los ámbitos de la vida privada y pública”, alertó Mallea en medio de los preparativos de su campaña electoral. 

María Jose Cumplido (PL), una reconocida escritora feminista y públicamente lesbiana competirá por el distrito 10. “Decidí asumir esta candidatura a diputada porque sentí que la política requiere, obviamente, renovación y no nos basta con pedirlo desde afuera. Pienso que para construir, en especial en este momento tan importante, tenemos que sumarnos colectivamente para trabajar por Chile”, sostuvo al Blade. 

“La plena igualdad LGBTQ y finalmente, la mejora sustancial en todos los aspectos de la vida desde la prevención de la discriminación a la representación y la posibilidad de que tengamos como un principio rector también el libre desarrollo de la personalidad, es decir, que cualquier persona tenga la orientación sexual que tenga, la expresión de género que tenga, pertenezca al pueblo que sea; tiene que tener la libertad de elegir su proyecto de vida y tiene que estar a un lado el Estado que permita el desarrollo en paz de ese proyecto de vida”, argumentó Cumplido.

La historiadora Maria Jose Cumplido aboga por entregar mayores libertades individuales a la población LGBTQ desde el Congreso. (Foto de Cortesía)

Finalmente agregó que “el futuro tiene que ser diverso. Tienen que estar todos los puntos de vista representados y por eso esta candidatura es muy importante para darle no solo visibilidad a la comunidad LGBTQ, sino también que las leyes integralmente también consideren a todas las personas que históricamente han sido excluidas”.

En el último año los casos de discriminación aumentarón un 14,7 por ciento en Chile, según el XIX Informe Anual de Derechos Humanos de la Diversidad Sexual y de Género, denominado como “El año de la resilencia LGBTQ”, a causa de que los atropellos sumaron 1.266, la cifra más alta conocida hasta ahora y que mantiene al alza una explosiva ola de ataques a LGBTQ que viene ocurriendo desde el 2018. 

Resiliencia, arrojó la investigación, porque en uno de los escenarios y contextos  más adversos para su calidad de vida, la población LGBTQ gestionó sus propios recursos y capacidades para ir en ayuda de los más vulnerables, reaccionar frente a las injusticias y mantener en alto la lucha por la plena igualdad social y legal.

Sumándose a esto los abusos, los compromisos incumplidos por parte de las autoridades, la carencia de condena pública estatal frente a los delitos de odio y la ausencia de una política focalizada para combatir los efectos de la Covid-19.

“Tenemos que seguir en con los brazos arriba, luchando para que esos cambios sean concretados y que sean cambios transformadores y profundos para la vida no solamente de la generación actual, sino los cambios para las futuras generaciones”, concluyó Mallea. 

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