New Tennessee Bill Would Allow Therapists To Deny Services To LGBT Clients

"Allowing mental-health professionals to discriminate could cause grave damage."

A new bill out of Tennessee's House of Representatives would give therapists the right to refuse their services to LGBT individuals on religious grounds.

The bill, which passed 68-22 after a hostile debate on Wednesday, would allow therapists to deny services to anyone with "goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselors or therapist." If the bill makes it into law, it would mark the first time that legislation has made it possible for therapists to pick what kind of clients they're willing to serve.

While supporters of the measure claim that it will actually expand rights for everyone, including therapists and counselors who find it difficult to serve those who don't conform to their sincerely held beliefs and values, opponents argue that the bill is discriminatory and would endanger the lives of individuals from vulnerable communities.

"For people seeking counseling because they are faced with a critical dilemma in their lives and need objective guidance, allowing mental-health professionals to discriminate could cause grave damage," warns the ACLU of Tennessee.

"Many who need care already face significant barriers, including trauma, marginalization, and a historic distrust of mental-health providers. For some—like a woman who wants to escape her abusive spouse or a gay teen being bullied, for example—this bill could affect their very survival."

They also address the specific impact the bill would have on smaller communities: "Tennessee also has many rural communities that have few providers. If there is not another counselor nearby, it may be challenging or impossible for a client to get the child care, transportation and time off required to travel for treatment."

Though the bill does stipulate that counselors are prohibited from turning away clients that are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, its inherent ethics are problematic and go against the American Counseling Association's 2014 code of ethics, which prevents counselors from imposing their personal values on clients.

Now that the bill has passed through the House, it will be sent back to the Senate for a vote. The bill joins other recently-passed hateful measures out of North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi , all of which aim to actively discriminate against those in the LGBT community.

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