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    Ann Rostow: Cuomo Scandal Brings Down HRC President

    By Ann Rostow–

    Cuomo Scandal Brings Down HRC President

    I suppose I have to lead with the news that the board of the Human Rights Campaign has fired HRC president Alphonso David for cause after two years in the job. David has lately been embroiled in a tangled mess stemming from the nine years he spent working for ex-Governor Cuomo. Last December, presumably based on lingering loyalty, David reportedly reached out to help the governor’s office fight off sexual harassment claims from Lindsey Boylan. That included handing over an old confidential memo about Boylan and editing a (never published) letter that did not reflect well on her. 

    In other words, David is accused of volunteering to help smear a former Cuomo staffer who was threatening the governor’s job and reputation. Boylan, who worked for Cuomo in 2016 as an economic aide, said the governor touched her back and shoulders, kissed her once in his office without warning, and made annoying suggestive comments. 

    Please Google all this yourself if you want the details, because I’m basically rehashing a Maggie Haberman story from the Times and ignoring whatever nuance still shrouds these events. David has pledged to fight his dismissal, and there’s a back and forth with the board over whether or not an internal investigation has been completed. I’m sorry, but who cares? You can’t run an organization once the board of directors has fired you, period. 

    As for David, his involvement in the Cuomo affair was documented in that recent report on the governor’s shortcomings by New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with the pro-Cuomo activities of lawyer Roberta Kaplan (who successfully challenged the Defense of Marriage Act) and Times Up CEO Tina Tchen. Although they stressed that they were not complicit in trying to smear Lindsey Boylan, both those women stepped down from their public roles after the AG’s report was released. 

    David, on the other hand, is having a conniption, showering everyone with tweets and statements nitpicking details about an internal investigation and refusing to step down as if this whole situation was a deliberate contrivance by nefarious enemies on the HRC board. I suppose it’s possible that David’s original offer of help to Cuomo’s office was innocent and that he truly believed his valiant ex-boss was being unfairly targeted by an overly sensitive woman—with flaws of her own no less! But at this point, it doesn’t matter. David never told the HRC board what he was up to, nor did he tell them that he had been interviewed by the Attorney General, nor did he warn them that he might be caught up in the Cuomo scandal and that this, um, might reflect badly on HRC. He decided instead to play it by ear and the board has turned off his music.

    Holmes’ Boies

    Speaking of lawyers who (allegedly) help smear harassment victims, are you familiar with David Boies? Of course you are. He represented Al Gore, but then descended into a bog, representing a bunch of tobacco companies, an arm of Blackwater, Harvey Weinstein, and Theranos. 

    Theranos was the scam run by oddball Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes that claimed to revolutionize blood testing, changing the process from a big needle at a lab to a single drop of blood at the drug store. Thanks to Holmes’ hype, her company was once valued at something like nine billion dollars, until we learned that her magical system did not actually work and the company collapsed in scandal. 

    Holmes was criminally charged with fraud and is on trial this month, which is why Mr. Boies has returned to the spotlight. I have now twice heard this bozo described as a “pioneer in the fight for same-sex marriage,” based on what was basically a PR stunt with his old Bush v Gore foe, Theodore Olson. 

    Back in the day, acting at the request of impatient activists, the two former opponents, Olson and Boies, teamed together to challenge California Prop 8’s ban on marriage, cluelessly stepping on the toes of the hardworking GLBT lawyers who had been strategically fighting for marriage equality for years. Olson and Boies had zero background in the decades-long fight for marriage, but that didn’t stop them from taking a zillion press conferences, fluffing their feathers, preening about and nearly derailing our various constitutional marriage equality lawsuits with what was basically an inept sideshow. 

    So, to hear him now described as some kind of gay civil rights hero is irritating beyond belief. The same promotional effort that delivered so much press to Boies and Olson at the time still resonates for sloppy journalists and lazy media outlets who vaguely remember something about Boies and same-sex marriage but can’t be bothered to verify the facts. 

    Can you tell I’m not a fan?

    Yes, Virginia

    Moving on, I’ve been reading about a three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court who ruled in favor of a conservative-sounding teacher who objected to some trans-friendly rules. The headlines I saw were similar to this one from NPR, which announced: “Court Backs a Teacher Who Refused to Use Transgender Students’ Pronouns.” Obviously, I was not prepared to write a positive account of this opinion, this panel or this plaintiff! (Cue: hisses and boos.)

    However, as far as I understand it, the situation is far more complex than it initially seemed. So far, there have been no transgender kids in Tanner Cross’ Leesburg Elementary gym class, so no, Mr. Cross has not actually refused to use a particular pronoun because he has not had the opportunity to display his holier-than-thou credentials. Instead, he has spoken out against the school’s gender policy at a public meeting on the subject. After listening to his opinions, some parents complained and Cross was suspended from duty, a pretty clear violation of his First Amendment rights we all must admit.  

    Cross, who has also challenged the underlying policy in court, contested his suspension and has been ordered reinstated by both a lower-level judge and now by the state supreme court. The school tried to argue that Cross’ public comments and the reaction from parents and social media was having a disruptive effect and the school had a right to take some action. But neither court bought this explanation. 

    Now, Cross and a couple of other ne’er do wells will continue the legal attack on the school’s transgender policy, and we ourselves can return to rooting against him, a position that feels much more natural than the grudging sympathy we have (briefly) experienced.

    Ad Astra Per Aspera

    On an unrelated topic, I’m strangely addicted to watching the Emirates airline ad over and over again. Have you seen it? It’s the one that pans out until you recognize that a flight attendant is standing on a tiny platform at the very top of a spire on the tallest building in the world in Dubai. And then they play some very cool music and the whole effect kind of takes your breath away. The vista, the majestic music, the bravery, the logistics, the imagination of it. 

    I guess I’m particularly impressed by the fact that the airline could have easily produced a similar spot through computer graphics, but although it might look the same, it could never approach the magnificence of the real thing—which was carefully engineered and which starred a professional sky diver. 

    I’m also very fond of the Chevy truck ad featuring Walter the cat who acts just like a dog. Walter comes when called, hops into the passenger seat of the truck, helps herd cattle, dives into a lake to fetch a stick, and comes trotting out sopping wet with the stick in his mouth. I read that the crew needed nine specially trained identical cats in order to pull this off, and that the cats had their own air-conditioned trailer on set. Apparently, one cat could fetch, another could herd, a third could race through a screen door, a fourth could jump into the shotgun seat, and so forth. 

    Again, the producers put tremendous effort into creating a scenario that could have been designed by a computer, but was indeed an astounding performance by amazing little creatures, one that makes us think twice about our expectations and even our stereotypes.

    I love the people who came up with these ideas and the people who agreed to invest in making them actually happen in the world. 

    Going Commando

    While we’re on the subject of TV commercials, our friends at One Million Moms have warned us against a recent spot by Sonic, in which two women sitting in a car confess to each other that they don’t wear their bras when they visit the fast-food restaurant. I originally signed up for the Million Mom news alerts in order to collect entertaining examples of antigay outrage triggered by mundane aspects of daily life. But here, I believe the Moms have jumped the shark. 

    “Sonic is airing a new commercial that is not only offensive—but this once family-friendly restaurant has made a deliberate decision to produce controversial advertisements instead of wholesome ones,” the Moms tell us. 

    “In a recent Sonic cheeseburger commercial, one customer is chatting in her car with another woman about how they don’t wear bras to Sonic and definitely not in their carpool. One Million Moms finds this highly inappropriate for an ad, especially one selling food.” Especially one selling food? Say what?

    “Does Sonic want children to think it is OK to go around in public wearing no underwear?” the Moms wonder. They urge us to “let the company know that as a parent and a consumer, you are disgusted by its recent marketing choices.” Makes you want to strip off your panties and head out for a Peach Bellini Slush. Bring along a flask of vodka if you like. No one’s watching, right? Mom? Is that you?

    Oh, and before we abandon commercials, I just read that Ford Germany presented a new blue Ranger Raptor. One person complimented the company on the vehicle but said the blue color was “very gay” and recommended they produce it in black and gold. Ford clapped back with a short video basically telling the guy to stuff it and displaying a version of the Ranger Raptor in glitter and rainbow colors with the words “Happy Pride” under the hashtag “VeryGayRaptor.”

    Show ‘Em the Money

    Let’s see what else we have before we go. Did you hear about the gay history display that was set up in the Missouri state capitol building in Jefferson City on August 30 for a four-month display? It was taken down two days later and sent to “a building at the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site,” which doesn’t sound as if it has quite the cachet as the Capitol. It’s unclear what happened, but it sort of seems like some conservative muckymucks were caught unawares and threw a fit. 

    What do you expect from Missouri? (My dismissive Kansan family members would be quick to ask.)

    We caught a glimpse of adopted twins in the arms of Pete and Chasten Buttigieg, a boy and a girl. I guess the two of them have been trying to become parents for some time, so congratulations. 

    And I love the fact that Gavin Grimm’s old school district, the Gloucester School District in Virginia, is now obliged to shell out $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees to the American Civil Liberties Union. This, of course, is after years of litigation over Grimm’s right to use the boy’s facilities first as a transgender high school student and then as an alumnus. That case went back and forth through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and twice to the Supreme Court. This year, the justices refused to hear an appeal, leaving Grimm’s second Fourth Circuit victory as the final word in this case.  

    Ominously, however, the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will rehear a similar transgender high school case en banc, before all 12 of the court’s judges. Last year, a split three-judge panel ruled in favor of Ponte Vedra student Andrew Adams, but the outcome of a full court review is not likely something we’ll be celebrating.    

    I hate to end on a sad note.

    Published on September 9, 2021