Tennessee Bill Gives Therapists Legal Right to Refuse to Treat LGBT People Based on a Sincerely Held Religious Belief
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State Senator Jack Johnson says mental health counselors and therapists should have the legal right to turn away anyone who violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The Tennessee lawmaker Friday morning was challenged to protect LGBT youth and teens who need help the most, rather than trained professionals whose job it is to help others.
"What does it say to a kid when a counselor says, 'Oh no, I don't want to take care of you because you're gay, I'll refer you to somebody else?'," Mitchell Gold (photo), co-founder and chairman of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, a top North Carolina-based furniture manufacturer, asked Sen. Johnson on CNN's "New Day."
"Instead of the Senator working hard to protect incompetent counselors, how about protecting these kids that are out there? There's over a million and a half gay teens that need the help and support of adults. They need the common decency of adults. They don't need to be persecuted," Gold said, insisting that mental health professionals "have to have continuing education," and "live to the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm."
Johnson's bill, HB 1840, is awaiting GOP Gov. Bill Haslam's signature or veto. As NCRM reported earlier this week, the legislation is particularly onerous for LGBT people in Tennessee. Of its 6.5 million residents overall, nearly one-quarter live in rural areas, where access to mental health professionals can be especially limited. While the bill states a therapist must provide a referral if they refuse service, it's not only possible, but likely, another therapist willing to help an LGBT person could be hours away. For young people in need of help, that literally could mean life or death.
Gold is also an LGBT activist and founder of Faith in America, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about how religion-based bigotry is used to justify discrimination against gay people." He reminded viewers that "LGBT kids are four to six times more likely to commit suicide, they're more likely to suffer severe depression, they're more likely to do drugs and alcohol, and they in fact, more often than their straight counterparts, kill themselves."
Sen. Johnson claimed it is the American Counseling Association, not the Tennessee General Assembly, who is discriminating.
Johnson also claimed that CNN host Chris Cuomo, and Gold, "hadn't read the bill," which drew Cuomo's denial and ire, prompting him to put up the text of the bill for viewers to read also.
Cuomo challenged him, insisting the bill says, "'I won't treat you if I feel something about you is offensive to my faith.' Is that not what this bill says?"
Johnson says that throughout time, counselors have always been able to turn away clients if they disagree with them. "And by the way, why should someone seek counseling from a counselor who is unqualified, untrained, and has no experience in a particular subject matter?"
Gold responded that if a counselor is untrained and not keeping up with their profession, "they really shouldn't be a counselor."
"Senator Jack Johnson claims this bill upholds the status quo and doesn't help any licensed therapist discriminate against LGBT people," Eliel Cruz, Executive Director of Faith In America, told The New Civil Rights Movement via email.
"If that were true, why the introduction of this new bill? It's clear to me and clear to the American people that this is yet another targeted bill against the LGBT community. For Senator Johnson to introduce legislation that will put LGBT youth in danger in the name of religious freedom is a bastardization of basic Christian tenets that include hospitality and loving the 'least of these.'"
Image: Screenshot via Twitter