Alphonso David, who for the past four years held a key post at the pinnacle of New York politics as counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo, has been named the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, the group announced on June 25.
In its press release, HRC, the nation’s leading LGBTQ lobbying group , noted that David, a 48-year-old African-American gay man, will be the first person of color and first civil rights attorney to lead the organization in its four-decade history.
Prior to becoming the governor’s counsel, David had led civil rights efforts in Cuomo’s office dating back to Cuomo’s term as state attorney general and, prior to that, served as special counsel to the State Division of Human Rights. For three years before joining state government, he was a staff attorney at Lambda Legal.
In a written statement, Deb Taft, the chair of the HRC Board Foundation, said, “Alphonso has devoted his career to expanding the civil rights of LGBTQ people across New York State and the nation. At a time when LGBTQ people, women, people of color, immigrants and refugees, and so many others are being confronted with daily attacks on our most basic rights, Alphonso is the fierce, compassionate, and strategic leader HRC and our broader movement for equality needs.”
Via Twitter, HRC’s outgoing president, Chad Griffin, who is leaving after seven years at the helm, said of David’s selection, “I am confident that this powerful organization and our grassroots army of 3 million members & supporters will have the leadership we need to win the critical battles ahead and continue propelling this movement forward.”
In an HRC video introducing the group’s new president, David said, “I don’t have to tell anyone that this is a perilous time. But in this moment I see a tremendous opportunity to overcome these attacks.”
In a written statement, he added, “I believe that together, we can harness the strength that’s inherent in our differences, to stand together in the face of fear and division…. If we want to win full equality, that’s going to require us to come together, to dig deep, to be resilient, to embrace our differences, to tenaciously defend the most vulnerable among us, to fight with every ounce of determination we have.”
In his state government work since 2007, David has made significant contributions in the battle for LGBTQ rights and civil rights generally. At the State Division of Human Rights and later working for Cuomo, he succeeded in closing the backlog of thousands of complaints that were a legacy of 12 years of Republican rule under Governor George Pataki.
During Cuomo’s first year as governor, David was a key player in coordinating the six-month drive that led to enactment of New York’s marriage equality law within the administration’s first legislative session. Other accomplishments where he took a leading role during that first term included the expansion of Medicaid coverage to pay for transition procedures for transgender New Yorkers, the liberalization and streamlining of procedures for them to amend the gender designation on their birth certificates, and changes to state procurement procedures that increased the share of contracts going to women- and minority-owned businesses by 150 percent.
In his first year as Cuomo’s counsel, David oversaw the implementation of new executive regulations within the State Division of Human Rights to interpret the term “sex” within New York human rights law to include “gender expression and identity.” That action came 13 years after New York adopted a gay rights law that included no protections for transgender people.
In the past six months, the Cuomo administration, with the support of Democrats in charge of both the Assembly and the Senate, has codified those transgender protections — and extended them to protect trans New Yorkers under the state hate crimes law — through the adoption of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. The state this year also banned conversion therapy practiced on minors and the use gay or panic defense strategies in murder cases.
A graduate of Philadelphia’s Temple University Law School, David went on to clerk for US District Judge Clifford Scott Green there. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland.
In written statements, David and Cuomo paid tribute to each other.
“For the last 12 years, Alphonso David has fought day and night to create a better New York, helping to enact real change and increasing rights for all residents of this great state,” the governor said. “As a key member of this administration and before that as part of my staff at the attorney general’s office, he had always served with compassion, dignity, intelligence, and a virtually unrivaled work ethic.
For his part, David said, “It’s been the pleasure of a lifetime to serve this administration with the most dedicated, hardest working elected official in the state and in the nation…The governor has been a true leader on so many progressive issues in this state, and I am proud to have been a part of it.”
Despite his professional accomplishments, David, in the HRC video, told a deeply personal story about his family’s move when he was a child from the US to Liberia, where his uncle was elected president. In harrowing terms, he described a military coup that had his uncle assassinated, his home overrun by armed rebels, and his father imprisoned. When he was 14, his father led the family in escaping Liberia for Baltimore, where, David said, he was “the other,” an immigrant from Africa who in time figured out he was gay, which led, for a time, to a profound estrangement from his family.
David won praise from other quarters with HRC’s announcement. Out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman tweeted, “Huge congratulations to Alphonso, who has been a steadfast ally with @NYGovCuomo in the fight to protect LGBTQ New Yorkers—and now people across the country.”
When David was named Cuomo’s counsel four years ago, Susan Sommer, a former Lambda colleague who then ran that group’s constitutional litigation efforts, described him as “an outstanding LGBT civil rights lawyer at Lambda Legal” and “a staunch advocate for civil rights in this state.”