Human Rights Campaign fires President Alphonso David for “significant untruths”

Alphonso David speaking at a New York State Senate hearing in 2015. (Youtube screenshot.)

Alphonso David has been fired as president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group. The action came late Labor Day night, Sept. 6, after a month-long internal investigation at HRC into David’s involvement in retaliation against women who accused former New York governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment and misconduct. 

Two separate votes were held by the boards of HRC and its affiliated foundation (HRCF) subsequent to a joint meeting. With the exception of only two abstentions from the foundation board, the votes were unanimous.

HRC launched the investigation into David on Aug. 9 and said at that time it would be concluded within 30 days.

As PGN reported last month, David had been implicated in the attempted cover-up of the sexual misconduct scandal that forced Cuomo to resign on Aug. 10. 

David’s firing was announced by the co-chairs of HRC’s board, Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, in a statement that said that his actions in assisting Cuomo had violated HRC’s mission.

After David stated publicly that he had been cleared by the HRC investigation, Cox and Patterson pushed for the firing. In their statement they said, “Yesterday and today, Mr. David released a statement that included significant untruths about the investigation and his status with the organization.”

The statement also reiterated HRC’s core mission. “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,” the statement said.

In addition, David’s “conduct in assisting Gov. Cuomo’s team while president of HRC was in violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy.” The statement said these actions by David had led to “material damage” to HRC’s “interests, reputation, and prospects.”

This damage is “significant enough” to “impair [David’s] ability to serve as the public face and voice of HRC,” the statement concludes.

Joni Madison, the chief operating officer for HRC, will become the interim president while a search takes place for David’s successor. 

David was cited in a 165-page report released Aug. 3 on the investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James into allegations by 11 women, including former staffers and a state trooper, of sexual harassment and misconduct by Cuomo. James’ report concluded that Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women and violated state law.” 

Investigators for the NY Attorney General interviewed 179 people and reviewed more than 70,000 pieces of evidence for the report, which corroborates the stories of the women and reveals a pattern by Cuomo of targeting women and the efforts senior staffers took to cover for him.

David worked for Cuomo for years prior to his tenure at HRC, which began in 2019 when he was hired as president. David is the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s 40-year history.

David’s decade-long relationship with Cuomo became an issue when the AG’s report cited David as helping Cuomo to retaliate against his accusers.

In 2015, David was appointed by Cuomo to serve as Counsel to the Governor. In this role, he functioned as the governor’s chief counsel and principal legal advisor, and he managed all significant legal and policy deliberations affecting New York state, including evaluating proposed legislation, implementing laws and policies, and formulating the state’s posture in both affirmative and defensive litigation.

Prior to his appointment, David served for four years in the governor’s cabinet as the Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights, the first position of its kind in New York state. In this capacity, he was responsible for a full range of legal, policy, legislative and operational matters affecting civil rights and labor throughout the state.

David was given repeated opportunities to resign and as recently as Sept. 5, that remained an option. 

But in a series of combative and defensive statements released on Twitter on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, David asserted that first the calls for his resignation and then his subsequent firing were “unjust.” 

In August HRC staffers had demanded David’s resignation. “When are you resigning?” one employee asked David in an Aug. 4 meeting described as “tense,” saying that “you are creating a toxic environment where partners can’t trust us.” 

The HRC board instead renewed his contract. On Aug. 9, HRC Foundation Board chair Patterson and HRC Board of Directors chair Cox said in a joint statement that “The Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation Boards have full confidence in Alphonso David as president of the organization” and extended his contract for another five years.

In his statement on the firing, David said in part, “As a Black, gay man who has spent his whole life fighting for civil and human rights, they cannot shut me up. Expect a legal challenge.”

Responses on social media were uniformly in favor of David’s firing and many pointed to the damage his refusal to resign last month had already cost the organization. One comment summed up many: “Resign and save HRC what little credibility it has left.”

One comment on David’s Twitter account stood out. Lindsay Boylan, one of Cuomo’s accusers who David is implicated in retaliating against on Cuomo’s behalf wrote: “Alphonso David questions the veracity of a report having never read it & yet is able to say it finds him innocent of any wrongdoing in helping to smear me when I spoke publicly about the abusive monster we both worked for over a period of years. What a time to be alive.” 

In their statement, Cox and Patterson wrote, “This is a painful moment in our movement. 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.”

The entire board of Time’s Up, a non-profit legal organization founded in 2018 which raises money to support victims of sexual harassment, resigned on Sept. 7, following David’s termination. Among those who resigned from Time’s Up are significant LGBT leaders.

The AG’s report implicated Time’s Up co-founder of Time’s Up’s Legal Defense Fund, iconic LGBT civil rights attorney Roberta Kaplan. Kaplan argued the case of United States v. Windsor before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 on behalf of LGBT rights activist and native Philadelphian Edith Windsor. The landmark decision in that case required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. 

Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen, former Assistant to President Barack Obama; Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama; and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, was, with Kaplan, embroiled in the same retaliatory actions of which David stands accused. 

Kaplan resigned Aug. 8. Tchen resigned Aug. 26. 

In a statement, Time’s Up said, “TIME’S UP belongs to all women. Its mission must continue – until we live in a world in which no woman ever needs to say #timesup again.”

Requests for comment on whether HRC’s board would also resign were not returned at press time.

Previous articleHoroscopes: September 3 -9, 2021
Next articleDeep Inside Hollywood: “Madame X” and “My Policeman”
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.