Stampp Corbin, a gay Democratic activist and publisher of San Diego LGBT Weekly, was among those calling on the Human Rights Campaign to rescind its endorsement of Kirk for his comments, even after the senator apologized for them.
“I think that any organization would reconsider an endorsement of a candidate that makes an obviously racist statement,” Corbin said. “The repudiation is exactly what Sen. Kirk did concerning Donald Trump’s troubling comments. Now, HRC needs to hold Kirk to his own standard.”
Kirk made the controversial remarks during a debate with Duckworth after she talked about her family’s long history of commitment to the United States and her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization for descendants of individuals who fought on the U.S. side in the Revolutionary War.
“I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound because people are quick to sound the drums of war and I want to be there to say this is what it costs, this is what you’re asking us to do, and if that’s case, I’ll go,” Duckworth said.
It was at the conclusion of Duckworth’s comments that Kirk, who has repudiated Donald Trump based on racism within his campaign, responded with his controversial and racially charged remark alluding to her Thai heritage.
“I’ve forgotten that your parents came over all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington,” Kirk said.
As NPR reported, the remark was flippant, racially charged and incorrect. Born in Thailand, Duckworth has a Thai mother of Chinese heritage and an American father who was a U.S. Marine. According to Mother Jones, Duckworth’s father, a World War II veteran, traces his heritage back to the American Revolution.
Faced with criticism for the comments, Kirk made an apology via Twitter the next day, referencing Duckworth’s military service. She lost both her legs and injured her right arm during the Iraq war.
Sincere apologies to an American hero, Tammy Duckworth, and gratitude for her family's service. #ilsen
— Mark Kirk (@MarkKirk) October 28, 2016
In March, the Human Rights Campaign had elected to endorse Kirk in his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate over Duckworth based on his LGBT record. The senator was an original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2011 and 2013, was the second sitting Republican U.S. senator to come out in favor of marriage equality and is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act.
But the endorsement came much to the chagrin of LGBT Democrats who were unhappy with the Human Rights Campaign’s decision to a Republican in the first place. After all, Duckworth also supports LGBT rights, backs same-sex marriage, and is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act. Kirk also votes for Republican leadership, which is blamed for the lack of progress of LGBT rights legislation in Congress.
Many critics say the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard gives Duckworth a perfect “100” score while Kirk earned a score of “78,” but that’s old information. The most recent ratings from the 114th Congress give both lawmakers scores of “100.”
Kirk’s comments re-ignited frustration among LGBT Democrats, inspiring new calls on the Human Rights Campaign to rescind the endorsement.
Brandon Lorenz, a Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after Kirk’s comments the lawmaker should “rescind” them, but maintained the organization’s support is unwavering.
“Mark Kirk’s comments were wrong and inappropriate,” Lorenz said. “HRC endorsed Sen. Kirk based on the strength of his record on LGBTQ equality, and while that remains unchanged, we believe he should rescind his comments immediately.”
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Kirk’s apology via Twitter was sufficient, or whether more action is needed.
The racially charged remarks were out of character for Kirk, who in 2011 upon the introduction of ENDA said he’s a Republican who supports equal rights and opportunity.
“It was Sen. Dirksen that clinched the deal on the  Civil Rights Act,” Kirk said. “I see this legislation as in that tradition to make sure that our country is a country not of equal outcomes, which would be a Communist state, but of equal opportunities, and to make sure that everyone has that opportunity regardless of orientation.”
Kirk’s apology wasn’t enough to assuage LGBT Democrats, who continued to criticize the Human Rights Campaign for ongoing support for the lawmaker.
— LGBT Caucus Dem HI (@GLBTCaucusDemHI) October 28, 2016
Mark Joseph Stern, a writer on LGBT rights and law for Slate, concluded in an op-ed piece the Human Rights Campaign is “simply irredeemable” for continuing to back Kirk after his remarks.
“Whatever the HRC might admire about Kirk’s lack of homophobia, it should not be able to forgive his racism: The organization purports to oppose all forms of discrimination,” Stern writes. “But apparently, for the HRC, racism is lower on the hierarchy of bigotries than homophobia, and thus less disqualifying than anti-gay bias. To the HRC, it seems, a candidate can mock his opponent for having mixed heritage so long as he still supports marriage equality.”
Jerame Davis, director of the LGBT labor group Pride at Work, said Duckworth deserves “a direct and formal apology, not a tweet to the masses” and the Human Rights Campaign “should still rescind their endorsement.”
“From voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act – and its many LGBTQ healthcare protections – to voting against paycheck fairness for women or an increase to the minimum wage, Mark Kirk is repeatedly on the wrong side of the issues. HRC should have never endorsed him to begin with,” Davis said.
Pride at Work is gathering signatures in an online petition calling on the Human Rights Campaign to rescind its support, saying Congress needs lawmakers “with common decency and a strong pro-LGBTQ record” and Kirk “does not meet that standard.”