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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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Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim

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Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Girl.com Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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Climate change threatens LGBTQ resort communities

Provincetown, Cape Cod, other destinations face ‘existential’ challenge

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The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on New York's Fire Island has been the scene of extreme erosion in recent years. (Photo courtesy Actum Vice President Savannah Farrell)

As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more. 

Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.

Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”

Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall. 

“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr. 

All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations. 

Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind. 

Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.  

“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”

Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.

“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”

Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger. 

“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said. 

In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community. 

Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities. 

“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.

Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.

“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.

Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.

The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.

McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community. 

“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon. 

Stronger storms threaten Fire Island

Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.

Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”

“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin. 

Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines. 

Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines. 

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US announces additional sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29

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LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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