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You’re Gay? No Therapy for You!

A law enacted this year by the Tennessee legislature affecting the counseling profession shows how some politicians are simply jackasses pursuing their own myopic, discriminatory agenda.

My forthcoming book, Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, details some of the more repulsive and corrupt aspects of politics and those who practice the art. But the Tennessee law strikes close to home, as I am in the process of completing a graduate degree and clinical internships in counseling and becoming a mental health therapist.

Tennessee politicians passed a law allowing mental health counselors to decline to treat any client if counseling that client involves “goals, outcomes or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor.”

This law’s not-so-subtle aim is to allow counselors to discriminate against clients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), an attempt to strike back against gains won through the legal system recently for gay marriage and equal treatment. The so-called “sincerely held principles” law also would allow counselors to deny services to clients for any number of discriminatory reasons, such as if counselors disagreed with principles of Jews or Muslims, or with principles of cohabitating unmarried couples. Essentially, the law is codifying discrimination.

The law is in direct opposition to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which states that counselors must avoid imposing their own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors on clients. In other words, the Code of Ethics forbids counselors from turning away clients who may be gay because they have certain attitudes or beliefs about gay people or the gay lifestyle.

Why Tennessee politicians felt they had to meddle in a self-regulating profession that is functioning well on its own is baffling, and demonstrates that many politicians are out-and-out jackasses using their office to impose their own narrow views on the populace. The American Counseling Association and the Tennessee Counseling Association vehemently opposed the law, yet politicians with little knowledge of the counseling profession and the profession’s ethics saw fit to ignore the experts in the field.

Could you imagine if a legislature passed the same kind of law in opposition to the medical profession’s ethics, allowing doctors to decline to treat gay people based on “sincerely held principles?” An emergency room doctor knows a patient rushed to the hospital is gay, and just passes on treatment?

Or the nurse’s code of ethics? How about police? A police officer has a belief in opposition to gay people, so decides not to protect and serve during an assault because of that principle?

It should be no different for the counseling profession. And any counselor who declines to provide services to gay people has no business being in counseling. Hold onto your beliefs, values and religion, but get out of counseling, because your attitudes and discriminatory behavior don’t belong. Counseling must be one place where people who are gay – or people from any other social or religious group — are accepted without discrimination or judgement, not another place where they will be rejected for who they are.

I am disgusted by Tennessee’s law and the complicity of a majority of the state’s lawmakers and its governor who promulgated it to promote their own brand of hate and unfounded fear of people who are “different.” Jackasses, all.

I stand firmly behind the American Counseling Association and its Tennessee affiliate in all efforts to get this law repealed and show other states, some of which are following suit, that such discriminatory legislation will not stand. The ACA already has taken one bold action to show that counselors do not accept the blind and narrow-minded stupidity of legislators by pulling its 2017 national conference out of Nashville, TN, striking a blow to the state’s economy and sending a message. More strong messages are in order.

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