Cuomo Scandal Prompts Reckoning At LGBTQ Group Human Rights Campaign

Aug 11, 2021

The president of the country's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization is fighting to hold on to his job, even as the group launches an internal investigation into his alleged role in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's sexual harassment and retaliation scandal. The scandal has already led Cuomo to announce his resignation - while still maintaining he did nothing wrong - as well as the resignation of the chairwoman of the anti-sexual harassment group Time's Up.

But Alphonso David, who leads the Human Rights Campaign, remains in his position. David is a former adviser and legal counsel to Cuomo. An investigation by the New York Attorney General connected David to multiple attempts by Cuomo and his advisers to retaliate against women who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. In one instance, the report states, David shared confidential personnel records regarding one Cuomo accuser with Cuomo's aides. Those aides allegedly leaked the accuser's records to the media. In another instance cited in the report, David participated in discussions about a letter that would attack the accuser's credibility.

David has denied all wrongdoing. He has said he was legally obligated to share the personnel files with Cuomo's advisers, and emphasizes that he never agreed to sign the letter that attacked the accuser.

When the New York Attorney General's office first released its findings, the boards of the Human Rights Campaign and its associated foundation stood by David. Board chairs Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson stated on Aug. 4 that they had "full confidence in Alphonso David as president of the organization," and said that they "were proud to extend his contract to stay on in his role for five more years."

But criticism of David grew both inside and outside of the organization, and led some prominent LGBTQ figures, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, to call for his resignation. At one staff meeting at the Human Rights Campaign, Huffington Post reported, an employee asked David directly, "When are you resigning?"

Then, on Aug. 9, the HRC board chairs Cox and Patterson released a new statement, in which they called David's alleged role in the Cuomo scandal "very concerning," and said they had hired the law firm Sidley Austin LLP to "conduct an internal investigation."

The investigation will take "no longer than 30 days," HRC stated, and "will include consideration of whether Alphonso David's actions aligned with HRC's mission and values, as well as with professional and ethics standards."

In his own statement, David said he supported the investigation. "I have been and will always be an ally to survivors everywhere for whom we fight every day," David stated. He called Cuomo's alleged conduct "reprehensible."

David added that he was cooperating with the internal investigation, in part, because "multiple inaccuracies have been circulating and therefore this definitive review is important."

David's comments suggested one task for the new investigation will involve assessing his credibility against that of the New York Attorney General's office. For example, David appears to dispute the context surrounding one finding from the Attorney General's report. That finding relates to the alleged retaliation against a former New York State employee named Lindsey Boylan.

Boylan accused Cuomo of touching and kissing her without her consent and making inappropriate sexual comments to her in the workplace. (Cuomo denies these allegations.) After Boylan went public with her claims, the New York Attorney General's report states, Cuomo and his advisers began drafting a letter that "denied the legitimacy of Ms. Boylan's allegations, impugned her credibility, and attacked her claims as politically motivated."

The report states that David told investigators he did not know whether the letter's claims were accurate, and declined to sign it. Still, he allegedly "agreed to read it and convey its substance to other former employees to see if they would sign it."

In his most recent statement, however, David contends that he "never agreed to circulate it."

The New York Attorney General's office did not respond to a request for comment from NPR regarding this claim.

An advisor to David told NPR that David only agreed to circulate a version of the letter that had "removed several objectionable parts" and "substantially removed the detailed references" to Boylan.

An HRC spokesperson told NPR that Sidley Austin is conducting its investigation on a pro bono basis. The spokesperson said HRC "will be transparent on the findings of the independent investigation," but did not clarify whether that would include publicly releasing the entire investigative report.

Charles Moran of the conservative LGBTQ group Log Cabin Republicans said in an email that the Human Rights Campaign's initial decision to fully back David in the wake of the Attorney General's report was "disastrous."

Moran said the group's close ties with Cuomo, and the subsequent fallout from the harassment scandal, provided a "warning sign to other LGBTQ advocacy organizations that subjugate their mission to the will of their donors and powerbrokers."

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