After Anti-Gay Survey, Ex-Coach Remains a Guidance Counselor

Before heading out to a semi-final high school football game on October 28, head coach Pat Lynch handed his players a supposedly jokey “Hurt Feelings Report,” asking the students highly offensive anti-LGBT and sexist questions in a decidedly misguided attempt at motivating the team. The report asks for students to check boxes for the reasons they are filing the “Hurt Feelings Report” with choices including “I have woman like hormones,” “I am a queer,” and “My butt is easily hurt” after which the they are asked to “Name little sissy filing report” and the “Real man who hurt your sensitive little feelings.”

In the aftermath of this highly offensive survey, students and parents voiced their outrage. As the Billings Gazette reports, “He was subsequently prevented from coaching that game and later resigned his coaching duties at Buffalo High School. He had been head coach for 13 years.” But Lynch has returned to his other position at the school as, of all things, a guidance counselor.

In an open letter of apology, the ex-coach wrote, “I would like to apologize for my lack of judgment and the poor choice that I made from my position as head football coach for Buffalo High School. I know that this situation has caused you pain and discomfort, and for that I am truly sorry. As a person and a professional, I believe I will learn and grow from this experience and use it to help others.” He goes on to write, “I appreciate having had the opportunity to coach in this community for the past 22 years. It has been a rewarding experience. I am eager to earn back your trust as I continue to serve in a profession that I truly love.”

After a two week suspension, the school board voted to accept Lynch’s resignation from his coaching duties but decided to reinstate Lynch to his role as guidance counselor. In the Casper Star Tribune, Superintendent Dr. Rod Kessler is quoted saying, “We’re going to work with Pat and have him continue doing the good things he was doing prior to this mistake. Our hope is that we can mend things we need to mend and gain back the trust and get the reputation that he needs to gain back as a professional.”

In a follow-up piece the Tribune gave voice to some of the outraged parents like Deborah Dillinger whose son plays football for the Buffalo team. She spoke at the school board meeting saying she was “appalled, ashamed and embarrassed” by the survey, which she called “disgusting.” She continued by criticizing the decision to keep Lynch on as a guidance counselor saying, “My kid doesn’t trust him.”

As national news outlets like ABC and the Huffington Post have picked up the story, the district has come under increased scrutiny. Superintendent Kessler expressed his opinion saying, “None of us are happy that it happened. It’s a black eye to the district. And it’s a black eye to Pat.” Kessler went on to say, “He made a bad mistake and he’s paid for it, and he’s got an uphill battle to work with right now. He’s got our support, and we’re going to try and make it.” Kessler pointed out, “There are people that are, of course, very unhappy and would like us to do more. And there’s people that thought it was about right.”

Local news outlets have been quick to disagree. The Buffalo Bulletin published a decisive editorial, “Lynch Must Be Dismissed.” In it the editorial board writes, “that Lynch continues as a BHS guidance counselor makes no sense to us, given time and the ability to ask more questions.” The Bulletin points out that in Lynch’s apology he makes no mention of or attempt to apologize to the young people of Buffalo or their parents and that, “Young, impressionable minds need the counsel of an adult who they can trust, open up to, confide in.” They take a stand for the community stating, “For the good of the high school, the good of the community, trustees and superintendent Rod Kessler must act decisively – and remove Lynch from BHS.”

The largest circulating newspaper in Wyoming, The Casper Star Tribune, also penned a scathing editorial, “Buffalo ex-coach should be dismissed by district.” The paper said the decision to let Lynch stay on as counselor “…simply doesn’t make sense. His off-the-field behavior was so egregious that Lynch isn’t allowed to continue coaching young athletes, so he definitely shouldn’t be in a position where he has any influence over students’ lives.” The paper goes on to say, “How can any students who have been bullied or harassed due to their sexual orientation now possibly look to Lynch for help or guidance on any subject? If he is allowed to keep his job, it implicitly shows that the district doesn’t take such discrimination seriously.”

As part of a national conversation about anti-gay bullying and harassment, parents and students are standing up to say there is no room for this kind of dangerous behavior in our schools. Students should be able to have relationships of trust and mutual respect with their guidance counselors, something that Pat Lynch clearly violated with his reckless decision to distribute the “Hurt Feelings Report.”  The Tribune points to the district’s failure to live up to its responsibility saying, “It’s an intolerable situation, and Lynch’s employment with the district should be terminated by the school board. But the board also indicated it has Lynch’s back when in left him in the counseling position.”

GLAAD applauds outlets like the Buffalo Bulletin and the Casper Tribune for giving voice to the students and parents from Buffalo High School who believe that every student deserves to feel both safe and respected at school. We have shared this story with our contacts at other outlets and are asking the media to continue shining a light on this incident and its fallout. The Tribune’s closing statement should ring true for schools across the nation facing issues of adult or student perpetrated bullying. “The school board’s primary concern should be to do what’s right for the students, and not on rehabilitating an employee who has foolishly squandered the trust placed in him.”