About a month ago, Congressman Stephen Lynch put out a feel-good YouTube video discussing his view of LGBT issues. It begins:
I think I’m informed by my own experience. My cousin, Brian, is gay. I saw, as he was growing up, the difficulties that he had. LGBT issues were not as strongly supported as they are now. I’m proud of my voting record on LGBT issues.
Lynch is implying that, because he saw his cousin’s “difficulties” growing up, he has long been a supporter of the LGBT community. Of course, we all know this isn’t true. Until a recent “evolution” on the issue, Lynch was an opponent of marriage equality. As for his cousin Brian, we’ll re-visit him shortly. Meanwhile, today’s Boston Globe profile of Lynch notes an even deeper and more insidious aspect of Lynch’s past approach to homophobia:
In 1994, during his first run for the Massachusetts House, he described himself as an opponent of legalized abortion, gay rights, and affirmative action, and as a supporter of the death penalty.
The main reason he cited for entering the race, he said, was his concern that the incumbent state representative, Paul Gannon, had not done enough to keep gay and lesbian groups out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Blasting Gannon for being “reluctant to incur criticism from the liberal media,” Lynch promised that, if elected, he would uphold the “traditions of our community.”
Once in office, in 1996, Lynch pushed a so-called “gay panic” amendment to the state’s hate crimes law, which would have allowed those accused of attacking gay victims to defend themselves by saying they were provoked by “lewd and lascivious” conduct by the gay person.
Two years later, he tried to broaden a bill that would have extended health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of gay public employees to include any relatives of those employees living in the same household. Gay rights activists called the change a hostile attempt to sink the bill by making it too broad and too expensive to implement.
This “gay panic” policy that Congressman Stephen Lynch advocated for sounds a heck of a lot like Florida’s barbaric “stand your ground” law. Under “stand your ground,” a person basically can suggest even the most tenuous claim of feeling threatened as a defense for killing someone. Similarly, as it is written in the Globe, under Lynch’s proposed “gay panic” policy, a homophobe could theoretically go free after attacking a same-sex couple if the homophobe claims that the couple were acting “lewd” enough (which begs the question as to what qualified as “lewd and lascivious” to Lynch in 1996? Kissing? Holding hands?).
Now, to be clear, I commend Lynch and the numerous other elected officials who have – in recent years, months, weeks, and even days – “evolved” on the issue and come to support marriage equality. But the point I’m raising here isn’t simply that Lynch was on the wrong side of an issue for a time. Lynch didn’t just oppose marriage equality. He actively sought to enact a policy that would give legal cover to homophobes looking to commit hate crimes against LGBT individuals, blaming the victims of the crime instead of the perpetrators.
This brings us back to Lynch’s gay cousin, Brian. As Lynch witnessed the “difficulties” Brian had growing up, did Lynch think a “gay panic” policy would help Brian or possibly hurt Brian? How does Lynch reconcile his claim of sympathy for the “difficulties” Brian encountered growing up with his advocacy for a policy that would potentially exonerate someone who committed a hate crime against Brian simply for being gay? Where does this “gay panic” policy rank among Lynch’s record on LGBT issues that he claims to be proud of?