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HRC president terminated after dispute with board on his role in Cuomo affair

David vows lawsuit to challenge termination

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Alphonso David, gay news, Washington Blade, HRC National Dinner

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David has been terminated as head of the nation’s leading LGBTQ group following a public dispute with the board over his role in the Andrew Cuomo scandal.

Jodie Patterson and Morgan Cox, co-chairs of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement late Monday explaining the decision that David, the first Black president of the LGBTQ group, was being terminated under the “for cause” provision of his contract.

“At HRC, we are fighting to bring full equality and liberation to LGBTQ+ people everywhere. That includes fighting on behalf of all victims of sexual harassment and assault,” Patterson and Cox wrote. “As outlined in the New York Attorney General report, Mr. David engaged in a number of activities in December 2020, while HRC President, to assist Gov. Cuomo’s team in responding to allegations by Ms. Boylan of sexual harassment. This conduct in assisting Governor Cuomo’s team, while president of HRC, was in violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy and the mission of HRC.”

According to the statement, the boards for the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation voted to terminate David. The board names Joni Madison, the current chief operating officer of the Human Rights Campaign as interim president effective immediately as board members engage in a search to replace David as president.

The decision to fire David comes after public sniping between him and the board co-chairs on the independent review the Human Rights Campaign initiated after he was named nearly a dozen times in the report issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

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

The source familiar with the vote said David never told Human Rights Campaign he was helping Cuomo during his role as Human Rights Campaign president or talking to the New York attorney general. The first board members heard about it was when it hit the press, the source said.

According to a report in the New York Times, a person familiar with the deliberations among the HRC board said that David “never told the organization that he was helping to advise Mr. Cuomo when the accusations came to light.” Further, David didn’t consult the LGBTQ group’s counsel, or inform them he was going to be interviewed by James’s office, the Times reported.

The ignominious outcome of David’s tenure at the Human Rights Campaign comes after two years with him at the helm of the organization. Observers had high hopes for him as the first person of color to run the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, which he took into new directions with a foray into legal work on LGBTQ rights.

David, via Twitter, where his profile as of Tuesday morning still identifies him as HRC president, vowed to fight the decision to terminate him in court.

 “As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up,” David wrote. “Expect a legal challenge.”

The board identified as reasons for termination David’s inability to serve as the public face of the Human Rights Campaign as well as “material damage” David has caused to the Human Rights Campaign as evidenced by media coverage and “hundreds of calls, emails and other negative communications HRC has received from staff, members of the Board of Governors, volunteers, program partners, general members, supporters, corporate partners, political figures, and more expressing serious concern with Mr. David’s conduct and its inconsistency with the values and mission of HRC.”

“This is a painful moment in our movement,” Patterson and Cox said. “While the Board’s decision is not the outcome we had ever envisioned or hoped for in terms of Mr. David’s tenure with HRC, his actions have put us in an untenable position by violating HRC’s core values, policies and mission.”

Over the weekend, David tweeted in a statement the board came to him late Friday telling him the review is completed, but suggested he resign even though they could produce no evidence of wrongdoing.

“I have the support of too many of our employees, board members and stakeholders to walk away quietly into the night,” David said. “I am not resigning.”

The next day, the board sent the email to their fellow members, saying they were “surprised and disappointed by the inaccuracies in his portrayal of events.” The email was shared with the Blade and three sources confirmed its accuracy.

Among the “mischaracterizations” identified by the board was David’s “assertion that there was ‘no indication of wrongdoing on his part.'”

David has said from the beginning he has committed no wrongdoing and wouldn’t resign as HRC president, even though other activists caught up in the scandal — Tina Tchen, president of “Time’s Up,” and Roberta Kaplan, board member of the same organization — made the decision to step down.

After the HRC board email became public on Monday, David issued a subsequent statement on Twitter: “The facts are that I was contacted by the board co-chairs late Friday night,” David wrote. “They told me that the Sidley Austin review was complete, but they would not provide the report to me or anyone. They gave me a deadline of 8 am the next morning to tell them whether I would resign. They didn’t offer a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on my part when I asked repeatedly.”

At the time news of the New York attorney general report emerged, the board initially supported David, and renewed his contract for five years. The next week, however, the Human Rights Campaign board and David announced they had agreed to an independent review on his involvement in the Cuomo scandal that would be conducted by Sidley Austin LLP and last no longer than 30 days.

Sidley didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to comment over the weekend on the review. The board chairs have indicated the results of the review would be confidential.

According to the New York Times, the person familiar with the review, said there was no written report and there was never going to be one. Instead, there were oral presentations to the board. David is said to have given names to the board of people who would speak on his behalf during the investigation, in addition to the 10 hours he spent being interviewed, the Times reported.

Some legal experts had 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.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’s report on Cuomo names David nearly a dozen times. Among other things, the report indicated after his tenure as counselor to Cuomo, he kept the personnel file of an employee accusing the governor of sexual misconduct, then assisted in returning that file to Cuomo staffers seeking to leak it to the media in an attempt to discredit her.

(A representative has disputed the characterization of materials David kept as a personnel file, saying it was memorandum on an internal employment matter David kept because he, in part, worked on it. David has said he was legally required to return the material.)

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 secretly calling and recording a call between a former staffer and another survivor in a separate effort to smear her.

In response, David said he agreed to help with only one version of the letter that was more positive in nature and his part in the discussion about recording a survivor was limited to his role as counselor.

The nation’s leading LGBTQ group is now faced with the task of finding a new president at a time of significant challenges for the movement. The Equality Act is all but dead in Congress and numerous states have enacted laws targeting transgender youth, many of which are being challenged by litigation that was filed by the Human Rights Campaign.

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National

Texas to resume abuse investigations into families with trans children

“To be clear the Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters & DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse”

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In a statement issued Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) agency announced that it will resume abuse investigations into families with transgender kids.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the DFPS statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse, the Dallas Morning News noted.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that DFPS can continue to investigate families in the state who provide medically necessary care for their Trans children, excluding the parties in the litigation that brought the matter forward in a lawsuit filed in March.

In its decision, the court emphasized that neither Attorney General Paxton nor Governor Abbott has the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of medically necessary lifesaving health care for transgender youth as child abuse. But the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

Trans activist Landon Richie who has been deeply involved in the efforts to mitigate the anti-trans actions by Texas lawmakers and has led protests against the transphobic actions by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton told the Blade:

“To be clear, the Texas Supreme Court has not directed Commissioner Masters and DFPS to continue investigating parents of trans youth for child abuse. While the decision means now only the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have protection, it reiterates that Attorney General Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter are not binding and not enforceable, meaning DFPS’s actions moving forward are at the discretion of Commissioner Masters only and not the state leadership’s directives. The Texas Supreme Court allowing for the district court to provide a temporary injunction is a good sign for people’s protection. 

It bears reminding families in Texas and around the country that today’s decision (and yesterday’s regarding gender-affirming care at UT Southwestern and Texas Children’s) reaffirms what we already know: opinions are only opinions and the people in power cannot abuse that power to abuse trans people. We know decisions can change at a moment’s notice and that this fight will take years, but to our families and communities under attack, please remain strong and take a moment to breathe. We’re in this together. “

An employee of DFPS who was a litigant in the lawsuit is represented by the ACLU of Texas.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing that unnamed employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments, the Dallas Morning News reported.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

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Florida

“Don’t Say Gay” student leader says school stopping run for student leadership

Jack Petocz organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill & annoyed administrators suspended him

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Jack Petocz (Center) at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government earlier this Spring (Courtesy of Jack Petocz/Facebook)

Jack Petocz, a Flagler Palm Coast High School junior, organized a state-wide student protest against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past March, and at his school, annoyed administrators suspended him.

On Tuesday, Petocz said that the school’s disciplinary action is now preventing him from running for senior class president.

“When I returned, the administration assured me that no further disciplinary action would be taken. A month later, they broke this verbal agreement and placed a level 3 referral on my record. Now, due to this high level of discipline, I am being prevented from running for senior class president. I am continuing to be punished for standing up for my identity and against widespread hatred.”

The suspension over the student walkout became a viral moment that propelled the 17-year-old into the national spotlight and into the national discourse over a spate of harsh laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

17-year-old Cameron Driggers, a student LGBTQ+ activist-organizer of the group Recall Flagler County School Board and co-leader of the walk-out, his friend’s suspension inspired him to create a petition on Change.org to pressure Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

One protest at the school over its suspension of Petocz brought together a grizzled and proud Out gay U.S. Marine Corps veteran accompanied by his fellow vets, who alongside with Driggers and the other young adolescent activists protested in a rally in front of the school at the same time Petocz and his father were inside meeting with Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Greg Schwartz, hoping to get him to rescind his seemingly arbitrary decision to suspend Petocz.

Jack Petocz (with bullhorn) leads Flagler Palm Coast High School protest against DSG bill (Photo by Alysa Vidal)

Later on during the day Driggers posted to the Change.org petition the news that Principal Schwartz had backed off.

“Recall FCSB is pleased to announce that Jack’s suspension has ended and he is back on-campus. We are grateful for the thousands of people around the globe that shared, tweeted and protested in support of Jack, the organizer behind the state-wide Don’t Say Gay Walkout. Over 7500 signatures were collected on a condemnation of Principal Greg Schwartz’ conduct last Thursday. With Jack back on campus, Recall FCSB will continue to empower student leaders in and out of school,” Driggers wrote.

Principal Schwartz also committed to removing the ‘disciplinary action’ from Petocz’s school record.

On Tuesday, Petocz announced that Principal Schwartz and other school officials are barring him from running for an elected student office.

In response to the news, PEN America issued the following statement from Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program:

“By going back on their word and imposing a red mark on Jack Petocz’s disciplinary record, the Flagler Palm Coast High School administration appears bent on retaliating against him for organizing the walkout against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is unconscionable. Jack exercised his right to protest as a citizen, and he led the walkout with the school’s approval. No student ought to be intimidated or punished by school authorities for their political speech, and the school already told him he would not be disciplined. This is especially troubling alongside news of other efforts to censor or intimidate students raising their voices for LGBTQ+ rights across Florida. The leaders of Flagler Palm Coast High School should remove this infraction from his record so that he can run for class president just like any other student.”

On Twitter, Petocz urged people to contact his school to get officials to reverse this latest decision.

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History making win- Out Lesbian could be Oregon’s next governor

“This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen”

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Courtesy of Tina Kotek

The Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday win by Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had announced her run for the governor’s seat to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is term limited last September 1st, 2021, positions her to become the first Out Lesbian governor in the nation should she win the general election in November.

Kotek’s win comes during an uptick in the elections nationwide as more candidates running for office identify as LGBTQ”. More than 600 LGBTQ candidates are on ballots this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

According to the Victory Fund, at least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.

Speaking to her supporters after it became clear she had won over Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who was polling second among Oregonian progressives, “This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen,” Kotek said.

Republican state legislator Christine Drazan along with an independent candidate, Betsy Johnson are slated to be on the November ballot.

Last Fall when she announced her candidacy, she said, “I am running for Governor because I know that, together, we can reckon with the legacies of injustice and inequality to build a great future for Oregon.” She also noted, “Oregonians are living through a devastating pandemic, the intensifying impacts of climate change, and the economic disruptions that leave too many behind. We must get past the politics of division and focus on making real, meaningful progress for families across our state.” 

“A victory for Tina would shatter a lavender ceiling and be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, yet she is running not to make history, but because there are few people as prepared and qualified to serve as Oregon’s governor,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Under Tina’s leadership, Oregon has led in passing legislation to improve roads and education, raise the minimum wage and ensure all residents are treated fairly and equally. As governor, Tina will make Oregon a role model for the nation.”

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