Control of the Senate hangs on this election, and the Human Rights Campaign is being asked to drop its endorsement of a Republican incumbent, Mark Kirk, who questioned his Democratic opponent's heritage in a debate on Thursday. On Saturday, the influential LGBT organization agreed to do just that.
Kirk, who is running against congresswoman Tammy Duckworth to represent Illinois in the Senate, was endorsed by HRC early in the campaign. The two were in the thralls of a debate Thursday in Illinois when Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who is disabled by her injuries, referenced her family and their service to the country. “My family has served this nation in uniform, going back to the Revolution. I’m a daughter of the American Revolution. I’ve bled for this nation,” said Duckworth.
“But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound,” added the Democratic candidate. “Families like mine are the ones that bleed first. But let’s make sure the American people understand what we are engaging in, and let’s hold our allies accountable, because we can’t do it all.”
Kirk responded by snidely bringing up Duckworth's ethnicity. “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” he said.
Kirk has since backtracked and tweeted an apology Friday.
Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family's service. #ilsen
— Mark Kirk (@MarkKirk) October 28, 2016
That apology did not go far enough, according to a statement released Saturday from the HRC.
"Attacking someone because of her race and ethnicity is inexcusable for anyone, but especially for a sitting U.S. Senator," HRC president Chad Griffin wrote in an open letter. "The diversity of our movement is our greatest strength, and Senator Kirk’s remarks were an affront to our most fundamental values. We have therefore voted to endorse Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who has been a strong LGBTQ ally in the House of Representatives, and HRC will contribute the maximum amount to her campaign. We look forward to working with her in the Senate to secure full federal equality for all LGBTQ Americans."
Kirk said in June that he refused to endorse Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, because he is "too bigoted and racist." He said he would not be voting for Clinton either, but that he would be writing in the former CIA director, David Petraeus. Now it's Kirk being referred to as a racist himself for the comment he made about Duckworth, who is the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Illinois.
Brandon Lorenz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted a statement on Friday that had the HRC standing behind its endorsement of Kirk despite backlash over the derogatory comment about Duckworth's ethnicity.
Read the statement from Lorenz here:
— Brandon Lorenz (@bllorenz) October 28, 2016
HRC endorsed Kirk in March. Kirk only had a 78 on the HRC's Congressional Scorecard, while his opponent Duckworth scored 100 (Kirk now has a 100, according to the HRC press release on the rescinded Kirk endorsement). Many at the time called into question why the HRC endorsed Kirk instead of Duckworth.
"Even more unnerving was when Kirk endorsed Donald Trump for president and HRC’s endorsement remained," said Jerame Davis of Pride at Work in an email today to supporters. "Kirk ultimately rescinded his endorsement of Trump, but now he seems to be taking a page out of Trump’s playbook with these comments."
Pride at Work pressed on HRC to rescind its endorsement. Davis wrote, "Considering the totality of his record and the debasing nature of his comments, we call upon the Human Rights Campaign to rescind its endorsement of Mark Kirk immediately and to use the final days before the election to inform LGBTQ voters of their mistake."
Meanwhile, HRC has not endorsed either of the out LGBT candidates for U.S. Senate — Jim Gray of Kentucky and Misty Snow of Utah. The endorsment is more than a public statement, it generally also comes with a contribution to the campaigns.
HRC has previously been criticized for not being inclusive of women or of queer people of color. An internal diversity report obtained by BuzzFeed News last year revealed that the organization has no "real push for diversity," and has created a "homogenous" culture that is "gay, white, male."
Scroll down to watch a report about this, below the exchange between Kirk and Duckworth.