The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the largest LGBTQ organizations in the country, fired its president Alphonso David – the organization’s first Black leader – last September following accusations that he tried to help provide cover for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) alleged sexual harassment.
Now he’s suing HRC, saying racial discrimination is “rife” at the LGBTQ organization. “HRC underpaid David, and then terminated him, because he is Black,” his complaint states.
Last year, a report filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James on her investigation into Cuomo mentioned David several times. David worked as a lawyer and an advisor for the governor before he started at HRC in 2019, and he allegedly provided documents about a woman who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment that were later used by others in the Cuomo administration to attempt to discredit the accuser. He was also accused of passing around a letter for signatures that would have undermined the accuser’s credibility.
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HRC stood by David at first, with board members saying they had “full confidence” in David’s ability to lead the organization, but faced backlash from people who sided with Cuomo’s accuser. For example, out Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she wouldn’t accept donations from HRC “unless and until there is a new president of this organization.”
HRC launched an investigation into his actions, and a month later he was fired for a “violation of HRC’s Conflict of Interest policy and the mission of HRC” that damaged HRC’s “interests, reputation, and prospects.”
David claimed that the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing and has said that his actions with respect to the Cuomo administration were not inappropriate, but HRC board co-chairs Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson released a statement saying that was an “untruth.”
“At HRC, we are fighting to bring full equality and liberation to LGBTQ+ people everywhere,” Cox and Patterson’s statement said. “That includes fighting on behalf of all victims of sexual harassment and assault.”
Now David is suing, saying that HRC maintained a “racist, biased culture” and that he was “unjustly” fired.
The lawsuit says that David heard from a board member that he was paid less at first because he is Black.
Another board member told him to stop mentioning racism in public comments. He said that a senior HRC executive said that “white gay men” who donate to the organization wouldn’t like to hear him talk about racism.
In another incident, David claims that the same executive told a Black staff member they should have taken a white person with them to talk to a Black-owned consulting firm since they were worried that the consultants wouldn’t work as hard if they thought they were working for a Black person.
“I had to challenge a system and a pattern of bias that has not only affected me, but it has affected way too many Black and Brown people,” David told the Washington Post. “Discrimination and bias are rife within HRC. And I’m just the latest person to be affected.”
“I’m hoping that we peel back the onion and find some sunlight. I’m hoping that we recognize that institutions that purported to represent all members of our community actually have to do just that.”
David’s lawsuit was filed in a federal court in New York and he’s seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
HRC, founded in 1980, has long faced criticism for its lack of inclusion of people of color and transgender people. The organization had seven leaders before David, and all of them were white and cis, and only two were women.
The Washington Post talked to Richard Brookshire, a communications specialist who was hired last year by HRC and who quit after working there for 90 days. Brookshire is Black and he said that people of color at HRC warned him not to trust anyone when he arrived, and he said that he did not get enough mentorship or guidance while working there.
“The reason I left was because there wasn’t a culture of belonging at HRC,” he said. “I was a Black face in a high place. A lot of racism in liberal organizations is in what is not said, what is not done…. You can feel that. You can feel when you are being excluded.”
HRC has not commented on the lawsuit.