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Alphonso David Says HRC Treated Him Differently Because of Race

Jonathan Capehart and Alphonso David
From left: Jonathan Capehart and Alphonso David

David, fired by the Human Rights Campaign last week, made a charge of racism in the first interview he's given since his ouster. 

Alphonso David, fired last week as president of the Human Rights Campaign, is accusing the organization of racism.

In an appearance on The Sunday Show With Jonathan Capehart on MSNBC, David, who is Black, said he was being treated differently from the way a white leader would be treated. He was the first person of color to head the HRC.

"This organization was created in the 1980s and largely has been viewed as an organization for white men," David told Capehart in the first interview he has given since leaving HRC. "And I came on, as a Black man, to really challenge some of the systems that have been ingrained in this institution, and I am being treated this way -- I am being treated differently, I believe -- because of my race."

David's troubles grew out of his role in helping New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo respond to sexual harassment accusations. David was Cuomo's in-house counsel before joining HRC in 2019, and when the accusations emerged last December, the governor's office tapped him to assist in the response, something that became known with the release of a report from the New York attorney general's office last month.

David provided the governor's staff with a memo of a meeting he had with one of the accusers, Lindsey Boylan, about an unrelated matter when she was a state employee (he has said he was legally obligated to do that). He also reportedly circulated a letter that sought to defend Cuomo and undermine Boylan. He refused to sign the letter but sought other signers. The document was conceived as a possible letter to the editor or commentary piece, but it was never published. The attorney general's report found the accusations against Cuomo credible and said he unlawfully retaliated against Boylan. Cuomo subsequently resigned and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul became governor.

The chairs of the HRC and HRC Foundation boards said David "acted counter to HRC's values, mission, policies, and how we believe accusers and survivors of sexual assault and harassment should be treated" due to his work in December. They said he had done "material damage" to the organization and was being fired "for cause." The action came after the boards contracted with the law firm of Sidley Austin to conduct an investigation into David's actions. The day before his firing, David posted a statement on social media saying he had been asked to resign but refused and that the investigation had found no wrongdoing on his part, while the HRC boards said there were "significant inaccuracies" in his statement.

David told Capehart the boards never produced the Sidley Austin report (the boards said it was an oral report, not a written one) and questioned whether this was a board investigation or a Sidley Austin investigation. He said the boards were changing the rules in the middle of the game. Sources said, however, that David had been notified from the beginning that it was a board-led investigation. Sources also said the seven-member committee that looked into the matter, made up of representatives from both boards, had five Black members.

Asked by Capehart about the "material damage" comment, David said other leaders of HRC had made statements and taken actions that resulted in protests against the organization but were not ousted. He did not specify the incidents, but there have been protests over the years, especially by transgender groups who said trans interests were excluded from its advocacy. There have also been objections to its support of corporations and occasional endorsements of Republican politicians.

"We can't apply transparency only to white people," David said, "we have to make sure we apply transparency to all of us. That's what's important, that's what I'm fighting for."

The Advocate has asked HRC for a response to David's interview and is awaiting one.

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