Counsellors in Tennessee can now legally reject LGBT patients

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Tennessee governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law this week that allows therapists with “sincerely held principles” to refuse to treat gay, lesbian and transgender patients.

After widespread condemnation from human rights groups, LGBT organisations and the American Counseling Association, therapists and counsellors in Tennessee will now be able to turn away patients if they violate their “sincerely held principles.”

Senate Bill 1556, more commonly known as the ‘therapist bill,’ passed the House and Senate earlier this month with minor amendments. These included; changing the wording from “sincerely held beliefs,” to  “sincerely held principles,” and a condition that counsellors treat people who are an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Governor Haslam said in a written statement that he was happy with the bill now that those amendments had been made: “The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system,” Haslam explained.

“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.”

Last month, the American Counseling Association said that if Tennessee passed the ‘therapist bill,’ they would become the first State in America with such a law. In a statement on their website, the ACA called the law “an unprecedented attack on the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics,” and described it as a “an unwanted and unnecessary blow to the counseling profession.”

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said in a statement: “This measure is rooted in the dangerous misconception that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate.

“Allowing counselors to treat some potential clients differently from others based on their personal beliefs defies professional standards and could cause significant harm to vulnerable people.”

While Patrick Grzanka, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Tennessee commented to ABC News: “People see that this is really dangerous and that it sets a horrible precedent for mental health services here in Tennessee and frankly around the country.”

The Family Action Council of Tennessee were major supporters of the bill, having previously stated that it was essential to protecting the religious beliefs of counsellors and therapists.

During a press conference this month in Nashville, GLAAD’s President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called on the music industry use it’s considerable influence in the state, in a similar way to the movie industry did in Georgia: “There is no doubt that these anti-LGBT bills will jeopardize this state’s economy,” she said.

“Nashville is America’s music capital, and the companies, artists, and allied businesses here alone contribute more than $9.7 billion dollars to this state’s economy. I am here today to call on the country music industry to stand with us, alongside television networks and film studios who stood with us in Georgia, in a united front against discrimination.”

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