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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he would help find individuals to sign their names to a draft op-ed that sought to discredit the survivor, but went unpublished, although he wouldn’t sign the document himself.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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Congreso Nacional de Chile deroga la última ley homofóbica vigente del país

Movilh celebró el voto histórico

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Asistentes a la última marcha del orgullo en Chile protestando por la derogación del artículo 365. (Foto de Gonzalo Velásquez)

Nota del editor: El Washington Blade ha publicado una versión de esta nota en inglés.

Durante la jornada del 2 de agosto, el Senado de Chile aprobó derogar el artículo 365 del Código Penal que diferenciaba la edad de consentimiento sexual entre parejas homosexuales y heterosexuales, igualandola sin discriminación.

Dicho artículo era la última ley homofóbica vigente en ese país, que en los últimos años ha aumentado en legislaciones y políticas públicas a favor de la población LGBTQ. En marzo de este año entró en vigencia el matrimonio igualitario con adopción incluida. 

Si bien el proyecto de ley iniciará un tercer trámite en la Cámara de Diputados, la derogación del artículo 365 ya es un hecho, según el Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh), la principal organización LGBTQ en Chile, ya que  este avance había sido previamente aprobado en la Cámara de Diputados.  

El hecho calificado como “histórico” por el Movilh, que viene trabajando por su derogación desde 1999 porque “se trata de la eliminación de nuestro ordenamiento jurídico de la última ley explícitamente homofóbica vigente en Chile”, señaló la organización que asistió al Congreso Nacional para gestionar los respaldos a la iniciativa.

La organización por los derechos LGBTQ chilenos que gestionó los votos de senadores, sostuvo que con el proyecto “aprobado hoy en el Senado se terminará con el estigma que pesa sobre los jóvenes homosexuales, cuya orientación y prácticas sexuales son consideradas un delito pese a no existir abusos o atropellos de por medio contra terceras personas y pese a la ausencia de cualquier otro delito ya sancionado por nuestra legislación”.

El historico dirigente del Movilh, Rolando Jiménez, precisó que “al eliminarse esta anacrónica norma,  la lucha por la igualdad LGBTIQA+ cierra un ciclo, donde ya nadie nunca más será sancionado por amar o desear alguien de su mismo sexo”.

“Lo cual a su vez se enmarca en otros derechos ya conquistados y que mediante leyes o políticas públicas prohíben o previenen la discriminación por orientación sexual o identidad de género. Hoy dimos un paso contundente y decisivo hacia la plena igualdad legal, un derecho ya garantizado en la Constitución, pero que históricamente ha sido tan esquivo para las personas LGBTIQA+”, subrayó Jiménez, quién trabajó por más de 20 años para lograr la eliminación de la norma.

En 2016, y en el marco de un Acuerdo de Solución Amistosa que el Estado y el Movilh firmaron ante la Comisión Interamericana de DDHH, Chile se comprometió a derogar el artículo 365 del Código Penal.

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Uganda government forces advocacy group to shutdown

Sexual Minorities Uganda says NGO Bureau ‘halted’ operations

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An LGBTQ and intersex rights group in Uganda says the country’s government forced it to shutdown on Wednesday.

Sexual Minorities Uganda in a press release said Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations, which oversees NGOs in the country, on Wednesday “halted” its operations “for non-registration with the NGO Bureau.”

The press release notes current Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha is among those who submitted an application with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau in 2012 “for the reservation of the name of the proposed company,” which was Sexual Minorities Uganda. 

David Kato, who was Sexual Minorities Uganda’s advocacy officer, was murdered in his home outside of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Jan. 26, 2011. A Ugandan tabloid a few months earlier published Kato’s name and picture as part of an article that called for the execution of LGBTQ and intersex people. 

The Uganda Registration Services Bureau on Feb. 16, 2016, rejected Sexual Minorities Uganda’s application based on grounds that it was “undesirable and un-registrable” because it sought “to advocate for the rights and wellbeing of lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer persons, which persons are engaged in activities labeled criminal acts under Sec. 145 of the Penal Code Act.” 

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

The Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s decision to reject Sexual Minorities Uganda’s registration application was upheld. Ugandan lawmakers in 2019 passed the Sexual Offenses Bill 2019, which further criminalizes homosexuality in the country.

“The refusal to legalize SMUG’s operations that seek to protect LGBTQ people who continue to face major discrimination in Uganda, actively encouraged by political and religious leaders was a clear indicator that the government of Uganda and its agencies are adamant and treat Ugandan gender and sexual minorities as second-class citizens,” said Sexual Minorities Uganda in their press release. “These further compromises efforts to demand for better health services and escalates the already volatile environment for the LGBTQ community.”

Mugisha described the decision as “a clear witch-hunt rooted in systematic homophobia that is fueled by anti-gay and anti-gender movements that have infiltrated public offices aiming to influence legislation to erase the LGBTQ community.” 

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which honored Mugisha in 2011, on Friday said it is “outraged by the utterly discriminatory and arbitrary decision of the NGO Bureau in Uganda to shutdown SMUG operations.”

“This endangers the lives and rights of LGBTQ+ (people) in Uganda and shows the extent homophobia has permeated Ugandan authorities,” said Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in a tweet.

The Council for Global Equality, OutRight Action International and Pan Africa ILGA are among the other organizations that sharply criticized the Ugandan government.

“Very disturbing news out of Uganda,” tweeted Pan Africa ILGA. “SMUG, one of the most influential LGBTIQ+ focused networks based in Uganda, has been suspended.”

Sexual Minorities Uganda, for its part, remained defiant.

“We shall be back,” it tweeted.

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Biden on freeing Brittney Griner: ‘I’m hopeful. We’re working very hard.’

U.S. puts deal on table as Griner sentenced to nine years

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President Biden said he was hopeful about freeing Brittney Griner on Friday.

President Biden made brief comments on Friday expressing optimism about securing the release of Brittney Griner the day a Russian judge sentenced the lesbian basketball player to nine years in a penal colony.

“I’m hopeful. We’re working very hard,” Biden said in response to a shouted question from a reporter following a bill signing at the White House.

Griner has been detained in Russia since February on charges of entering the country with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil and was later arrested on drug charges. The Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia for the release of Griner in exchange for a Russian arms dealer in U.S. custody.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday the optimism Biden expressed was based on general feelings as opposed to a new development in negotiations.

“He’s the president, he has to feel hopeful,” Jean-Pierre said. “This is something that is important to him. I don’t think — if he had said something else — it would have not, you want to be sure you zero in, he’s focused on the task that is at hand. His team is working on this, his national security team, you’ve heard from Secretary Blinken, you’ve heard from us. This is something — again, has been top of mind, bringing U.S. nationals home who are being wrongfully detained, who are being held hostage has been a priority of his. There’s no other place but to be hopeful and to do the work that we need to do to get this done.”

Asked if there was any specific development, Jean-Pierre replied, “No. I wouldn’t read into it. I think as president, he’s doing what presidents do, giving hope.”

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