The Human Rights Campaign has withdrawn a controversial endorsement of a Republican Senator over racist comments.
Illinois Senator Mark Kirk had earned the group’s backing for his Senate re-election campaign earlier this year due to his support for LGBT rights – one of just a handful of Republicans to secure an endorsement from the influential LGBT lobbying group.
His rival, Democratic congressman Tammy Duckworth, is a long-term LGBT rights champion, with many activists challenging HRC’s decision to endorse Kirk over her.
With less than two weeks to go until the election, Kirk was plunged into controversy this month when he mocked his mixed-race opponent’s heritage.
Duckworth cited her history as an Iraq war veteran, saying: “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.”
Kirk responded: “I forgot your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
HRC yanked its endorsement from Kirk following the row.
HRC President Chad Griffin said: “After careful consideration, HRC’s Public Policy Committee of the Board of Directors has taken the unprecedented step – a first in our 36-year history – of revoking an endorsement.
“We are a bipartisan organisation and our staff and board make endorsement decisions based on a proven record of LGBTQ equality and a candidate’s ability to drive legislative change.
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“We will not continue to make progress and pass the Equality Act without Republican support. It’s vitally important that we continue to build bipartisan coalitions so that we may continue to move equality forward.
“We endorsed the sitting Senator, Mark Kirk, because he has been a strong supporter of our cause time and again, scoring a 100 percent on HRC’s most recent Congressional Scorecard. But events this week have gone beyond the pale for our standards of leadership.
“Leadership is about more than the legislation one sponsors and the votes one casts. On Thursday night, Senator Kirk’s comments about his opponent’s heritage were deeply offensive and racist. His 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.
“Attacking someone because of her race and ethnicity is inexcusable for anyone, but especially for a sitting U.S. Senator. 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.
“With only ten days until the election, HRC is focused on executing the most robust get-out-the-vote effort in our history, reaching beyond our own members and supporters to pro-equality voters who have demonstrated an openness to creating a more equal and fair society.
“This year our community has a clear choice: between Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine – the most robust pro-LGBTQ ticket in American history – and Donald Trump and Mike Pence – who threaten to undermine all of the progress we’ve made in the last eight years. The choice is equally clear in races at every level of government.
“This year, we are going to demonstrate together that opposing LGBTQ equality is a political liability. And together, we will continue to fight for equality and deliver real, meaningful change for our country and community.”