After a nearly seven-month search, the Human Rights Campaign announced Tuesday its next president will be Alphonso David—marking the first time a person of color will lead the nation’s largest LGBT organization.
David, a 48-year-old gay black man with an extensive career in New York as a civil rights lawyer, legal advisor and law professor, is named after the board of directors launched an extensive search to replace Chad Griffin, who announced in November he’d leave the organization. David is set to start in August.
“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,” David said in a statement. “And that’s exactly what the Human Rights Campaign was built for.”
“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,” David continued. “I promise you this, I will fight for each and every one of us.”
In a Human Rights Campaign video, David talks about his past as a U.S.-born individual who spent his youth in Liberia, where he enjoyed roller skating as a past time, before violent political turmoil shook up his life. (David’s uncle, who served as Liberia’s president, was assassinated.) At age 14, David escaped Liberia with his family for a new life in Baltimore.
The transition at the Human Rights Campaign takes places as the 2020 presidential election heats up. David will likely lead efforts in supporting the Democratic nominee to defeat President Trump, who’s built a substantial anti-LGBT record over the course of his administration.
David will be the seventh president of the Human Rights Campaign—which has an annual revenue about $45.6 million—and takes the reins as the organization approaches its 40th anniversary.
John Ruffier, board chair of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement David is the right person to lead the organization at this time.
“As we approach the Human Rights Campaign’s 40th year and the most important election cycle of our lives in 2020, HRC has never been stronger or better positioned to lead,” Ruffier said. “When it comes to maximizing the electoral power of millions of LGBTQ voters and our allies, or to defending the fundamental rights of our community, or to protecting the most vulnerable among us, I know that Alphonso will ensure that HRC continues to lead the way.”
Previously, David was chief counsel and legal advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, overseeing significant legal and policy deliberations affecting New York State. Before that time, David served in the governor’s cabinet as the deputy secretary and counsel for civil rights, the first position of its kind in New York State.
Under David’s counsel, Cuomo signed administrative orders protecting transgender rights and barring widely discredited conversion therapy for youth, as well as bills this passed a by a new legislature with Democratic-controlled enacting the practices into law. Just recently, David joined Cuomo in announcing the launch of the of the New York State WorldPride Welcome Center in New York City.
Prior to working in the public sector, David was a staff attorney at the Lambda Legal Defense & Educational Fund and a litigation associate at the law firm Blank Rome LLP. David, however, began his legal career as a judicial clerk to the late U.S. District Judge Scott Green, a Nixon appointee, in Pennsylvania.
At Lambda Legal, David worked on New York’s first marriage equality lawsuit. When the route to achieve marriage equality in the courts in New York State ultimately deemed unsuccessful, David worked as deputy secretary and counsel for civil rights to win marriage equality through legislation in 2011.
In the past decade, David has worked as a law professor at Fordham University Law School and is currently at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Cuomo commended David in a statement and wished him luck in his new role, saying he was essential in “helping to enact real change and increasing rights for all residents of this great state.”
“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,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake New Yorkers are better off today because of his years of public service and we will miss him tremendously. I wish him the best on this new and exciting chapter and am proud to consider him always a part of Team Cuomo.”
LGBT advocates had speculated the next president could—or should—be a woman or a person of color. Griffin and Joe Solmonese, two white men, oversaw groundbreaking strides in LGBT rights during their tenures at the Human Rights Campaign, but observers had said selecting another white man would be a missed opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of the LGBT community.
The most recent publicly available tax forms from the Human Rights Campaign reveals Griffin in fiscal year 2017 earned $481,375 in reportable income and $20,893 in compensation in related organizations, making for total of $502,268. (The form for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation lists Griffin’s income as $0.)
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether the next president will earn the same amount Griffin made upon his departure from the organization.
But an HRC spokesperson confirmed Alphonso would be president of both and the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the non-profit 501(c)(3) arm of the organization.
Deb Taft, board chair for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said in a statement David “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,” Taft said.
Photo courtesy HRC.