I’ve been digesting news reports of Andrew Cuomo, sexual harassment, and the reverberations in the LGBTQ community.
Sexual harassment is despicable. No matter what form it takes.
Charlotte Bennett, a Cuomo accuser, told investigators that Cuomo had asked her if she was monogamous. Cuomo has denied all allegations of sexual harassment.
If you’re queer, either you or one of your friends, have likely been sexually harassed.
Maybe you’ve been sexually assaulted.
Perhaps, you have a friend who’s afraid to come out because their boss makes anti-queer “jokes.”
In the 1990s, I was ridiculed and reprimanded at a work staff meeting for talking about the “gay sex life” of my (then) partner and myself. (The only thing I’d mentioned about my girlfriend and myself was that we both liked pizza with no anchovies.)
Unfortunately, despite #MeToo and marriage equality, things haven’t changed that much regarding sexual harassment.
In 2017, NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a poll of LGBTQ people.
More than half of those surveyed, NPR reported, said that “they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been sexually harassed.”
Given the queer community’s experience with, and struggle against, sexual harassment, the allegations that, as the Blade reported, Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David potentially played a role in the coverup of Cuomo’s behavior, are profoundly disturbing.
David, who before taking the helm at HRC in 2019, was counselor to Cuomo, denies that he’s done anything wrong.
David is HRC’s first Black president in the organization’s 40-year history. He’s worked to make HRC more diverse – more welcoming and inclusive for people of color and transgender people. He was instrumental in writing and getting marriage equality legislation passed in New York state.
David may be innocent of any wrongdoing.
But, the allegations of David’s potential complicity in Cuomo’s effort to discredit his accusers are serious. He is named, as the Blade reports, nearly a dozen times in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s report. The report found that Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women employees.
I’m not a lawyer. But James’s report doesn’t appear to be a hatchet job.
The report seems to be well documented. In its aftermath, Cuomo would likely have been impeached if he hadn’t resigned.
You’d think that HRC would have acted immediately — that it would have taken steps to investigate whether the allegations against David are true.
After all, some HRC staff members have called for David’s resignation. Some of its donors, including Michigan’s attorney general, have called for David to step down.
Instead, HRC issued a statement supporting David. Though the timing was coincidental, the group renewed David’s contract for five more years.
After intense pressure, HRC, as the Blade reported, hired the law firm Sidley Austin LLP to conduct a 30-day investigation of the allegations against David.
This would be welcome, but the law firm has worked extensively with HRC. It says that it has had “a long standing relationship” with HRC.
Legally, this may not be a conflict of interest, but that doesn’t make it seem any less fishy.
You can’t help but wonder: how can a law firm that has a relationship with HRC conduct a fair, independent investigation of the allegations against David?
Such an investigation’s findings would carry little weight in our perception of David and HRC.
If the allegations against David were found to be untrue, what meaning would this finding have?
If HRC sincerely wants to conduct an independent investigation, the investigation shouldn’t be time-limited to 30 days.
For due diligence to be done, no time limit should be set on the inquiry.
Lastly, David should be placed on unpaid, administrative leave while the investigation is taking place.
I hope David will be found to be innocent of wrongdoing.
But, to maintain its credibility, HRC must conduct a fair, transparent, independent investigation.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.