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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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State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR ‘shows us what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.

Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.

“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.

Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.

“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”

Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.

Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”

Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.

“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.” 

Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ people

Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.

“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.

Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:

• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups

• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.

• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”

“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken. 

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history with appointment to lead House Democrats

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, an LGBTQ ally, will become the first Black lawmaker of either party to serve in the top spot of either of the two chambers of Congress

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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) (Photo public domain)

With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) became the first-ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in U.S. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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National

Homeland Security says more attacks against LGBTQ people are possible

Gunman killed five people at ClubQ in Colo. on Nov. 19

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(Public domain photo)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a terror threat bulletin Wednesday warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, Homeland Security officials noted that several recent attacks, plots and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the U.S:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” Homeland Security warned.

Homeland Security also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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