Tennessee Governor Grants Therapists License To Discriminate

Have you ever noticed that when there’s a fresh and innovative approach to being dead wrong, it’s one of our deep-fried southern states right there on the cutting edge, primed and ready to take ‘Merican exceptionalism to the next level of awful?

Tennessee, famous ’round the world for superb country music, lame country music, stinging red ants, day drinking and the fewest dental visits per capita, has been scheming up new ways to out-bigot the rest of the south since their own transgender bathroom bill was… stalled. Heh.

Well folks, do not underestimate the depths of southern ingenuity! Gov. Bill Haslam (R) recently signed a bill granting to therapists certain rights highly coveted by bakers, florists and wedding photographers throughout the south; Licensed counselors in the state of Tennessee are now legally permitted to withhold services based on their sincerely held feelings about Jesus.

Senate Bill 1556 states:

No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey, doesn’t this violate the 2014 update to the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, (C.5. Nondiscrimination), which instructs counselors and therapists that they may not turn away clients based on a number of characteristics, including sexual orientation or gender identity, and if so, what really is the underlying purpose of this piece of legislation?”

Me too!

And so was the American Counseling Association which argued that counselors already have the ability to refer clients to other therapists, for actual professional reasons, provided they don’t discriminate, which this bill obviously does, as ACA spokesman Art Terrazas rightly points out:

Plain and simple, this bill codifies discrimination. It not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking counseling, but will also have unintended consequences that will reach Tennesseans in all walks of life — whether it’s a veteran suffering from PTSD, a woman suffering from spousal abuse or a business owner simply trying to attract out of state clients.

In Gov. Haslam’s defense, he’s an ignoramus and thus we shouldn’t set our expectations too high in analyzing the following two provisions he cites as rationale for signing the bill:

1) A bigoted therapist is required to make a referral to a non-bigoted therapist when “sincerely held principles” supersede professional ethics, so whatever!, and 2) The law doesn’t apply if “an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.” So don’t fret, Tennesseans, if you’re feeling especially murderous or suicidal on a particular day, even a bigoted therapist will see you.

That’s nice, right?

SB 1556 is an impressive piece of legislation for its sheer ability to be both discriminatory and unnecessary, and, admittedly, a very cleverly disguised way of interjecting some desperately desired “ew gay” into Tennessee state law, what with same-sex marriage now being the law of the land and all.

What Haslam and his fellow “religiously persecuted” fail to consider, however, are the real life implications for those in the LGBT community, particularly for teens, who are, statistically, four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide, and for those in rural communities where access to mental health care is already severely limited.

Haslam fails to recognize that the therapy room is an appalling choice of venue in which to wage an absurd and useless war over “religious freedom.” The therapy room is not the bakery, the photography studio or the floral shop. By its very nature, the therapy room is where vulnerable individuals seek support and guidance, free from judgment. Exploiting the vulnerable to aggrandize a deluded idea of religious persecution is not just bad form, it’s deadly dangerous.

So hey the south, props for creativity on your counselor bills and your bathroom bills and your fascinating interpretations of “religious freedom,” but the rest of us also have a sincerely held belief and it goes like this:

Marriage equality and LGBT rights in no way impede anyone’s ability to worship how they please.

It’ll be okay.

So let’s just come together as a country and get back to the things that really matter. Like heaping scorn on Nickelback.

Featured Image: via youtube screen capture.

About Lisa Brenner 34 Articles
Staff writer, editor, liberal shade thrower.

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