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Will Human Rights Campaign learn new lesson with Kirk endorsement? 

When bipartisanship backfires

With less than a week before Election Day, we're finally coming to the conclusion of a long and historic, if frustrating election season. This particular election has taught us a lot about ourselves and our friends, families, neighbors and communities. Even in the waning days of the campaign, lessons continued to be dished out, as one national LGBTQ organization found itself hopefully learning a new lesson of its own.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, was forced on Oct. 29 to rescind its endorsement of Illinois' Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk. It was the result of Kirk's racist attack during a debate with his opponent, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. Kirk's debate retort — "I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington" — came after Duckworth, whose mother is Thai and father is American, cited her own military service, her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and her family's history of uniformed service dating prior to the Revolutionary War.

HRC's March endorsement of Kirk had come under heavy criticism, which grew louder after news circulated of Kirk's own personal endorsement of Donald Trump, which he later rescinded. At the time, HRC praised Kirk's relatively pro-equality stance on LGBTQ issues and his more moderate track record as a Republican. They cited a bipartisan strategy and a need for making inroads with pro-equality-leaning lawmakers regardless of party.

Critics of the endorsement pointed to HRC's own 100 percent pro-LGBTQ rating for Duckworth, compared to Kirk's 78 percent. Critics also said any effort by HRC to elect or re-elect a GOP senator could potentially result in maintaining a staunchly anti-queer Republican majority in the Senate — a majority that would also continue to endanger or impede the rights of a large portion of our own community, including people of color, women, low-income people, immigrants and others.

No amount of criticism could sway HRC's top brass, at least until the debate that finally forced their hand. Critics pounced again as HRC initially continued to defend their Kirk endorsement. After criticism reached a fever pitch, the organization rescinded their endorsement.

HRC President Chad Griffin chimed in, too, writing an open letter calling Kirk's comments "an affront to our most fundamental values."

Griffin's explanations are difficult to take seriously. If something is truly an offense to "fundamental values," one doesn't continue defending it.

"They were waiting, praying for [Kirk] to offer an adequate apology — but he didn't, just some weak statements," wrote Michelangelo Signorile, a longtime LGBTQ activist and one of the more outspoken critics of the Kirk endorsement. "Not sure why they expected something stronger since he voted against people of color, said ugly things before — and is part of a racist, anti-LGBT party that made Donald Trump its presidential nominee."

Signorile called the rescinded endorsement "too little, too late," adding, "HRC defied the wishes of millions of LGBT people."

In my column last month, I argued that one cannot care about LGBTQ equality without also caring about a broad range of intersectional issues on race, gender, the economy, healthcare, immigration and other topics which affect a large number of people in our own LGBTQ communities. The long, winding story of HRC's Kirk endorsement is a perfect example of this lesson.

HRC's arguments for a bipartisan strategy in this particular endorsement would have required ignoring the negative effect of Kirk's leadership on women, people of color, the poor, immigrants and others. Most Republicans, Kirk included, aren't ready for our support. They haven't earned it. There might come a time when, perhaps, the GOP wises up and drops its dangerous culture war mentalities, but that time is not now.

History is full of examples of once-problematic leaders who later turned new pages in their understanding of liberty and freedom. But until those new pages are actually turned — not just considered — we should not reward problematic candidates with endorsements and the cash contributions which often come with them over far more qualified leaders and over the voiced concerns of the very people LGBTQ organizations claim to serve.

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