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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he would help find individuals to sign their names to a draft op-ed that sought to discredit the survivor, but went unpublished, although he wouldn’t sign the document himself.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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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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World

South Korean electronics giant pulls pro-LGBTQ ad after backlash

Singapore campaign showed mother supporting drag queen son

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An advert campaign by South Korean electronics giant Samsung was yanked after significant backlash in Singapore from some members of its Muslim-majority community.

The ad, part of the company’s “Listen to Your Heart” campaign to promote its Galaxy Buds2 and Watch4, featured a Muslim mother expressing support for her drag queen son.

The ad was meant to promote Samsung’s new wearable products, like noise-cancelling earbuds and a smart watch with a heart rate monitor, the BBC reported.

The video featured several participants’ reactions as they listened to heartfelt recorded messages from their loved ones. One of the pairs of participants featured a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf as she heard a message from her son, who was a drag performer.

“You are just unbothered having people looking or judging you differently, having a son that does drag,” he tells her in his message.

The scene of the Muslim mother embracing her drag queen son sparked a torrent of negative commentary on virtually all social media platforms with some ad hominem remarks directed at Samsung which caused the electronics company to pull the ad.

In a Facebook post Samsung wrote;

“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms,” Samsung said. “Samsung believes that innovation and growth are driven by diversity and inclusivity. We will certainly be more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints for our future marketing campaigns.”

Members of the local LGBTQ community similarly expressed their disappointment at the ad being taken down.

“It was the first of its kind video coming from a minority group on a relationship between mother and son [and] was so affirming,” Hilmi, a center manager at local LGBTQ organization Oogachaga, told BBC News.

“As a queer Malay man, I am saddened to see a video that expresses unconditional love [being] taken down abruptly due to societal pressure from a group of people with conservative values.”

Marketing Interactive, an online Singapore-based daily news and email news service which is emailed every work day to advertising and marketing professionals in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, interviewed Anand Vathiyar, managing director at Cheil Singapore, the ad agency Samsung partnered with.

The campaign was meant for people from all walks of life to be able to express their true feelings to their loved ones, Vathiyar said.

“What is heartening is that for everyone who is getting politically correct about this episode, there are many others, especially younger Singaporeans, who seem to get that we can do better to listen to each other with due care, empathy, respect, and consideration,” Vathiyar added.

Meanwhile, in a video posted on Instagram on Jan. 20, the BBC noted that the son featured in the video also reassured followers that he and his mother were “doing well.”

“I’m not going to talk about the comments that [were] said in [that video],” the drag performer known as Vyla Virus said.

“It was all about a mother’s love in that video, nothing else was mentioned.”

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Local

Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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