This morning I learned that TN Governor Bill Haslam signed HB-1840 into law, which allows counselors/mental health practitioners to discriminate against LGBTQI clients for “sincerely held beliefs.” I wrote an email to the governor, as I’ll eventually seek my license to practice in TN, where I included many of my objections I recently wrote to those in my profession who support this atricious law. I got a response from his office saying that included the remarks he made about signing it:
Although Senate Bill 1556 has received attention for its perceived focus, my job is to look at the actual substance of the legislation. After considerable thought and discussion with counselors both for and against the bill, I have decided to sign Senate Bill 1556. There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.
The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system. Rather, it allows counselors – just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers – to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle. I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs.”
I wanted to share my response via my blog to his statements regarding this bill. There are massive flaws in the argument:
- I don’t know of any doctor who has any legal right to deny care to a patient based upon the doctor’s sincerely held beliefs. A doctor can’t just refuse care based on differences in how he/she lives their life compared to the patient’s
- Comparing part of the medical field (which includes doctors AND counselors) to the legal field is a fallacious argument. I, for one, find it shouldn’t be permitted for lawyers to choose their clients, but nonetheless they are doing legal work, which isn’t necessarily pertaining to the health, wellness, and livelihood of their clients. Medical professionals are dealing with those things.
- This bill, and therefore the governor’s support of it, fails to take into account the availability of clinical/medical care both for A) lower income people state wide (rural or urban), and B) the complexities of finding mental health services in rural areas alone. The latter coupled with the prevailing conservative stigma and discrimination of LGBTQI people in more rural areas only serves along side this bill to make counseling and clinical care even more hard to find.
- This bill is government overreach into a self-governing and well-established association (the ACA) whose ethics and codes have been self-determined by the professionals in the counseling field, agreed upon, and upheld by anyone seeking to become a License Professional Counselor. This bill is a blatant disregard for the ethical guidelines already in place for counselors and the counseling profession.
- This bill opens the door for more discrimination disguised as “workers’ rights” with allowing counselors, who are trained and must hold to the ACA Code of Ethics, to disregard ethical practice, which has been circumvented by misguided, shallow legislation whose pure origins lie in discriminating against a certain group of people and has nothing to do with giving counselors’ rights to them. The question now is, “Who are we allowed to discriminate against next as counselors and upon what basis?” Even further, this bill allows discrimination based up “sincerely held beliefs” that may be hateful, misguided, or just completely wrong to hold i.e. racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.
All this bill does is harm those seeking already scarcely available help (pending on location), harm the field of counseling, and set up a precedent for more discrimination. As a counselor-in-training, advocate for LGBTQI rights, and eventual TN citizen and licensed counselor, I oppose this harmful legislation and completely disagree with the governor’s logic and rationale behind signing it. I will do all I can to be a voice of opposition to this law and work with others to see it repealed.
There are plenty of reasons to oppose this bill besides the concerns I have, but let me be clear that it is discrimination disguised as “religious freedom,” and I hope that we can come together and fight to repeal this bill.
It is time to make clear that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are first class citizens. They are full and welcome members of our American family and they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans. It is time for us to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Such discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated.”
-Senator Tom Harkin