Tennessee's LGBT Citizens Are About to Become Even More Marginalized Unless the Governor Vetoes HB 1840
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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today must veto a bill that would allow therapists, counselors, and mental health professionals to cite their "sincerely held religious beliefs" as reason to refuse service to LGBT people. Unless the governor signs it or does nothing it becomes law. Only his veto, today, can stop this unconscionable attack on his citizens, some of whom are among the most vulnerable and in need of support. It would be the first law of its kind in the nation.
HB 1840 passed the Tennessee legislature and was sent to the governor April 15. He has ten days, excluding Sundays, to act.
The bill technically allows therapists to cite their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse service to anyone – they must refer them to another counselor – so atheists, people who are divorced, Muslims, and other minorities are all potential targets.
Last week Gov. Haslam, NPR reported, "said he is 'talking to a lot of folks to get some input' on the bill and that he had boiled his thinking down to this central question: whether therapists could truly leave their values out of their work."
The sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Dan Howell, "said last week that administration officials have told him the governor 'appears to be happy with HB 1840 and he may sign it,'" the Times Free Press reports.
Like many conservatives who support so-called "religious freedom" legislation, Haslam appears to be more concerned with "protecting" religious extremists increasingly unable or unwilling to operate in a diverse world, than actually protecting those who need protection the most, those who are at risk.
The choice is simple.
A therapist who isn't allowed to refuse to help a teenaged LGBTQ person because they are LGBTQ isn't going to consider or attempt self harm, but that LGBTQ teen, especially those who live – as 25 percent of Tennesseans do – in a rural area, might.
The clock is ticking, Governor.