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GOP House candidate declared himself a 'homophobe' as college student body president

Bryan Metzger   

GOP House candidate declared himself a 'homophobe' as college student body president
  • Kevin Coughlin, the GOP nominee for a House seat in Ohio, once called himself a "homophobe."
  • It was part of a broader controversy over alleged discrimination when he was student body president.

Kevin Coughlin, the Republican nominee to take on Democratic Rep. Emilia Sykes in November, is one of his party's best hopes of flipping a House seat this year.

Coughlin has a long history of serving in elected office, including 10 years in the Ohio Senate, four years in the Ohio House, and even a two-year stint as student body president at Bowling Green State University.

It was during his college years that Coughlin — amid a controversy involving alleged discrimination against a fellow student who was seeking an appointment to the student senate — declared that he disagreed with "the lifestyles that homosexuals choose to lead."

He also labeled himself — at least ironically — as a homophobe.

"I'm homophobic, I admit it, I have a problem with it," the student newspaper quoted Coughlin as saying in 1991, citing two people who had heard him make the remarks. Coughlin later penned a guest column in the paper disputing the exact quote while claiming that he had made the comment in jest.

"I jokingly said this because I am sick and tired of hearing cries of discrimination from members of the outer fringes of society every time they are turned down for a position or they run into someone who has differing opinions," Coughlin wrote at the time.

"It is true that I do not agree with the lifestyles that homosexuals choose to lead. I do not shirk from that," Coughlin continued. "But that does not make me stupid, uneducated or homophobic and I'm rather tired of people being persecuted because they hold an opinion."

A spokesperson for Coughlin's campaign told Business Insider that his comments were indeed sarcastic, and that the purported quote "does not reflect his views then, or now."

'As much sarcasm as I could muster'

According to archives of The BG News, the university's student-run newspaper, the controversy began in January 1991, when a vacancy opened in the university's undergraduate student senate.

Coughlin, first elected student body president in 1989, had the power to appoint a new senator. But after the president of the school's Lesbian and Gay Alliance expressed interest in the seat, Coughlin chose someone else.

That led another student senator to accuse Coughlin of discriminating against the student on the basis of his sexuality, at which point the student paper quoted Coughlin in February as saying he was "homophobic."

In the guest column he wrote two weeks later, Coughlin sought to straighten things out, saying he had appoint another student because of his previous service in student government.

He also took on the "homophobic" quote directly.

"Knowing that charges from the outer fringes of discrimination were on the way, I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster, 'Well you know why I didn't appoint him, don't you? It's because I'm a homophobe and I need help,'" Coughlin wrote.

"My opinion does not, however, mean that I would ever discriminate against a homosexual," he later added. "To me, people are people and as an American, people are entitled to their having opinions without having them twisted into something they're not."

The future state lawmaker would go on to lose reelection as student body president that spring, owing in part to the controversy.

Though it's been over 30 years since those events took place, Coughlin has maintained a general opposition to LGBTQ+ rights, including voting for a bill to ban gay marriage in 2004, when he served in the state senate.

Additionally, on a conservative Christian organization's questionnaire completed earlier this year, Coughlin indicated that he "strongly agreed" with the notion that "no government has the authority to alter" the definition of marriage as a "God-ordained, sacred and legal union of one man and one woman."

His campaign spokesperson, Cierra Shehorn, argued that the survey referred specifically to religious institutions' definition of marriage, that Coughlin believes the issue is "settle law," and that he would "never support an effort to change that."

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