LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) rescinded its support for Mark Kirk, an embattled Republican senator from Illinois, after he openly mocked the heritage of his opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth.
At a debate held at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Kirk responded to a comment from Duckworth, whose mother is Thai and Chinese and father is white, that her family has been involved in American armed conflicts since the Revolutionary War by remarking, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” Duckworth is a war hero who lost both of her legs in the Iraq War; Kirk has previously publicly apologized for exaggerating his own military service.
Kirk was endorsed by HRC in early in the campaign, a move that infuriated many local LGBTQ activists. Kirk is one of the more moderate Republicans in Congress—he endorsed marriage equality in 2013, becoming just the second Republican senator to do so—which HRC used as its justification for its endorsement, despite the fact that Duckworth score 22 points higher than Kirk on HRC’s LGBTQ equality scorecard.
In an open letter posted to Medium, HRC president Chad Griffin wrote, “[Kirk’s] attempt to use Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s race as a means to undermine her family’s American heritage and patriotism is beyond reprehensible. Yesterday, Senator Kirk tweeted an apology that failed to adequately address the real harm and magnitude of his words. So today, following a vote by our board’s committee, the Human Rights Campaign withdrew our support of Senator Kirk.”
It is telling that remarks about race, and not LGBTQ issues, prompted HRC to withdraw its endorsement; an internal report on HRC’s own diversity, leaked to BuzzFeed reporter Chris Geidner last year, found major racial diversity problems within the advocacy organization, referring to it as a “homogenous” “White Men’s Club.”