New bill would allow therapists to refuse to treat LGBT people.

How can our legislators, who are supposed to represent equality, decency, and every single American vote for something like this?

The Christian Right’s latest attack on the state’s LGBT community zipped out of the Senate Education Committee yesterday by a 7-2 vote. Nashville Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson was among the yes votes. The bill bars public universities from making graduate students in psychology counsel anyone if that would conflict with their “deeply held religious beliefs.”

Let’s get this fucking straight right now: immoral actions are no more excusable if they are religiously motivated or if they are motivated by any other type of ignorance.  Period.

If you wouldn’t let doctors watch a person die because they don’t approve of the person with whom the patient is swapping spit, you wouldn’t let a therapist watch someone march down the path to suicide because he thinks Jesus will cast them into hell.  While religion may make you a shitty person, it does not give you license to be a shitty person with impunity.  Where others are prohibited from discriminating against others professionally, being religious does not exempt you from the laws that bind everyone else.

What other laws could this apply to?  Everybody else can’t speed, but if your religious beliefs say you’re allowed, then go hog wild?  Laws are made (presumably) in the best interest of society, to protect people and to foster equality.  When someone’s religious beliefs are in conflict with those standards, our laws should not be what is made to bend.

psychologists and social workers told the senators the bill violates the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics and therefore jeopardizes the accreditation of Tennessee’s psychology graduate programs.

Not only that but “we don’t have an identified problem in Tennessee that this legislation will fix,” said Rebecca Smith, chair of the MTSU Department of Social Work. “We’re not able to cite a recent incidence where a student has refused to counsel a client or a client group based on religious belief.”

“It is our goal to teach the student how to be accepting of the client even when they cannot accept the client’s behavior. Much like the Good Samaritan, we do not pass by the individual in need because of an ideological difference.”

And, as usual, the experts with all the relevant information on the subject were instantly waved off because a group of particularly ignorant people from a particularly ignorant region in a time period ignorant of almost everything human beings now know thought differently.  Like Elizabeth Scalia said, why defer to experts when gut instinct is available?  Of course, you’ll never hear Elizabeth Scalia or GOP legislators say “Fuck these experts, I’m going to build a better computer with my gut instinct.”  You never hear that because they wouldn’t even know where to start and the experts would laugh at them.  But when the science has to do with the brain, and the effects of bone-headed legislation aren’t immediately visible, all of a sudden the experts-are-wrong-and-we-piss-ignorant-laymen-are-right approach doesn’t get mocked, even though it’s just as silly as trying to build a computer with intuition.

Jesus fucking Christ, these people…

  • Charlie

    This screams at me as another reason that we need a single payer healthcare system that covers mental therapy. If these bigots would like to exclude themselves from accepting any and all, then we can exclude them from receiving payments through public funds. Let those who wish to prop up their bigotry do so standing solely on their own wallets.

  • Glodson

    And then someone will tell me that Christianity is about love and compassion.

  • firefly

    ” When someone’s religious beliefs are in conflict with those standards, our laws should not be what is made to bend.”

    But they think it does. Entitled narcissism is what this is. I love living here, Nashville is pretty liberal and becoming more so every day, so I think this might be an over-the-top push back from people who know their position is becoming less and less accepted.

  • http://petterhaggholm.net Petter Häggholm

    On the one hand, I think that any therapist or councellor who would refuse to treat LGBT people, if allowed, is an irredeemable douchebag, so this implies no sympathy for them, but…honestly, maybe it’s for the best. If a therapist is so lacking in compassion for a patient, what are the odds that they’ll treat them with dignity and respect and do anything like an adequate job?
    For any gross physiological medicine, there should be no excuses. A doctor should have no difficulties diagnosing pathogens, performing essentially-mechanical surgeries, and so on. But psychological therapy from someone who can’t accept you as a valid person? Better that it never happen.
    (I suppose the option that could be discussed would be of barring these assholes from the therapeutic professions altogether.)

    • firefly

      “but…honestly, maybe it’s for the best.”
      I very much disagree. While I appreciate what you mean, enshrining this in law give this position a credibility it should never have, and makes it seem like an acceptable position instead of a bigoted fringe-opinion. That is a dangerous road to travel down.

      • Randomfactor

        Indeed, what are the odds that they’ll treat ANYONE with compassion and skill? Better they should be working at a Burger King, where their religion will only result in someone getting a cheeseburger without the cheese, because Jesus.

    • Nate Frein

      I think that what we need is to get psychological treatment moved towards the same social acceptance as “gross physical medicine” because ultimately they are no different. This measure would reinforce falsities that we as a society should be working to move past.

      So no, I don’t think it’s better to go ahead and allow this. What we need is, if anything, a better standard of education for people moving into these fields.

    • Leum

      As a gay man who experiences depression, I agree with Peter. If my therapist isn’t legitimately queer-positive, I don’t want them treating me. Therapy is not the same as “gross physiological medicine,” it’s a very intimate and personal, albeit professional, relationship. I don’t really care if the law gives homophobia more social legitimacy; if it keeps me from being sent to an anti-gay therapist I’m all for it.

      • Nate Frein

        I’m sorry, no.

        I find having a nurse put a tube on my face or cut into me to be just as intimate as a psychologist trying to deduce what is messed up with my brain chemistry (and yes, I’ve spent time in ERs for both suicide attempts and for major asthmatic episodes.)

        This isn’t about giving more legitimacy to homophobia. It’s about giving legitimacy to the notion that the brain is some magical thing divorced from reality and not a massive collection of complicated chemical reactions. This gives legitimacy to the idea that a therapist can morally judge anything that is wrong with a patient because somehow because it’s the brain and not the heart it isn’t physiological.

      • Leum

        Look, fight the battle against mind-body dualism with your own life, not with mine. I don’t want a therapist who’s going to attribute all of my problems to my homosexuality. Therapists make moral judgements; I want my therapist to make moral judgements, I want her to tell me if what I’m doing is immoral.

        • Nate Frein

          Have you been to a therapist? Or are you talking in complete conjecture here?

        • Leum

          I’ve been in therapy for some time now, been psychiatrically hospitalized four times.

          • Nate Frein

            Then where, exactly, does “moral judgement” come in play in treatment?

            Where, in your hospitalizations, were “rightness” or “wrongness” in question?

          • Leum

            Because my therapist isn’t a doctor. She’s more like a personal trainer for my life. And my life includes questions of morality as well as depression. And questions of morality and my depression interact. My therapist helps me to untangle my life and understand it so I can make better choices in the future. And if she thinks that one of the “better choices” I need to make is to stop being gay, then she has no business counseling me and definitely shouldn’t be forced to.

          • Nate Frein

            Because my therapist isn’t a doctor. She’s more like a personal trainer for my life.

            I can apply this same reasoning to my cardiologist and my respiratory therapist.

            And my life includes questions of morality as well as depression. And questions of morality and my depression interact. My therapist helps me to untangle my life and understand it so I can make better choices in the future.

            Yes, and?

            And if she thinks that one of the “better choices” I need to make is to stop being gay, then she has no business counseling me and definitely shouldn’t be forced to.

            Wrong. If she thinks that a physiological fact about you (that all scientific evidence supports being a physiological fact) is morally wrong and needs to be “fixed” then she should not be treating anyone at all.

          • Leum

            She shouldn’t, that’s true. And I’d support a ban on licensing homophobic and transphobic therapists. But in the meantime, keeping them away from LGBT people is a whole lot better than subjecting us to them.

          • Nate Frein

            Not when the “in the mean time” measure serves to make it harder for any real progress to be made.

          • John Horstman

            Wrong. If she thinks that a physiological fact about you (that all scientific evidence supports being a physiological fact) is morally wrong and needs to be “fixed” then she should not be treating anyone at all.

            While I agree, that’s not practical. If we were to bar people who are homophobes from being therapists, they would simply lie, as we can’t read minds. As someone who needs therapy, I would much rather my therapist be upfront with hir biases so I can find one who’s going to work for me. This does seem to be slightly odd – I can’t think of a single queer person who doesn’t loathe hir own queerness who would want to be treated by a hateful therapist in the first place. As a matter of professional ethics, therapists should not be treating patients for whom they have contempt. This doesn’t really track with physicians as analogous, because there’s no particular reason one’s heart surgeon need to know one is gay, but one’s therapist definitely does. Nate Frein, you say you’ve been in the ER for a suicide attempt, so I imagine it’s likely you’ve had some mandatory therapy (I’m actually entirely against the practice of mandating psychiatric treatment, but that’s another debate) if not voluntary therapy, but your perspective seems radically different from most of those I know who have seen psychologists or psychiatrists, including me.

          • Nate Frein

            I’ve been hospitalized for suicide attempts.

            I do not see a difference between a therapist refusing to treat a client because they thing being gay is a sin, and a therapist refusing to treat a client because they feel suicide is a sin.

            The fact is, this measure allows the student to do both.

            What we need is greater oversight, better standards, and better education. Homophobes should not even be able to get through the training without either learning how to divorce their homophobia from their job or washing out.

            This measure targets how we train our up and coming therapists. We should not be allowing them to hide behind homophobia and still graduate from those programs.

        • Nate Frein

          This isn’t about “what you are doing”. This is about “what you are thinking” and “what is wrong with the chemicals in your brain”.

          Those are gross physiological. Those should be treated as gross physiological. Passing moral judgement on depression (or homosexuality) is no different (and no more ridiculous) than passing moral judgement on cancer or an asthma attack.

    • eric

      The point is, these are students. They are supposed to be learning how to counsel people with compassion, dignity, and respect for their patient. And they won’t learn unless they actually practice doing that in difficult circumstances. Only taking patients you already respect, as a student, is sort of like saying you want to only do addition and subtraction and be a math major. Answer: no, to be good and recognized in this field, you have to learn the tough stuff too.
      If Ms. Ward or anyone else wants to earn her degree, pass whatever licensing requirements the state has, and then only take straight patients in her private practice, she is welcome to do so. But as a student, she has to learn the trade and that means the gaining wide skill set and ability to practice under difficult circumstances that people expect from an accredited, degreed social worker.

      • Michael Busch

        Exactly. And, as the faculty informed the legislature, since this is a flagrant violation of the APA’s rules, the schools could lose their accreditation if they were to follow it.

        There is one encouraging thing about this whole mess: there hasn’t been a recent case where a student refused to treat a patient due to the student’s religious beliefs.

    • AmyC

      The thing is, if a therapist cannot find a way to get passed personal ideological differences to help their patients, then they’re a shitty therapist. The way it is now, the university could simply kick them out of the program for being a shitty therapist and then nobody would have to deal with them (unless some Christian college picked them up). The bigotry ends right there and lgbt people know that if they’re denied treatment then they have a place to turn to. If the law passes, then it would force universities to give a degree to shitty therapists who would deny treatment to others, and lgbt people would not know that they have a place to turn to if they are denied treatment.

    • Lexie

      Petter – I think I understand your argument here, and I do agree with you that it is not going to be healthy for someone who is already suffering with mental illness to be told that they are a hell bound sinner by some overly religious therapist. However, I think that you have made a mistake, a doctor’s religious views can impact on their ability to provide good evidence based medical services in a variety of fields of medicine. There are numerous instances of women dying who have been denied contraception or abortion services by religious doctors who will not provide these services. There are Jehovah’s Witness doctors and nurses who will not personally administer blood transfusions, I do not personally know of any instances where this has resulted in adverse patient outcomes however it certainly could. So it is not just in mental health fields where medical professionals “sincerely held religious beliefs” can interfere with their duty to provide patient’s with good evidence based medical services. So I don’t think that your conclusion is totally valid, should psychology students be allowed to opt out of providing services if medical and nursing students aren’t afforded the same right? Or should all medical professionals be allowed to not provide evidence based services if it contradicts their beliefs?

    • Lexie

      oops mistake – the third sentence should read “There are numerous instances of women dying after they have been denied contraception or abortion services by religious doctors who will not provide these services”

      Also I would not want to long term see a therapist who believed that gays were evil nor would I long term want to see a doctor who doesn’t think contraception is moral, however, sometimes with all medical issues there are emergencies. If I am currently suicidal and walk into a university hospital I need emergency psychological services provided to save my life the same as if I am a heavily pregnant women who walks into a hospital miscarrying with substantial chance of dying I need an emergency termination to save my life.

  • smrnda

    If people who want to be counselors don’t want to counsel people who do things their religion disagrees with, they are welcome to attend the (likely unaccredited) religious clown college of their choice and earn a degree in “Biblical Counseling” or whatever and they can counsel fellow believers using their Bibles instead of the DSM-IV (or is V out yet?)

    If a person can’t handle counseling GLBT people, they have no business in the profession.

  • pjmaertz

    I’m pretty sure the woman after whom this bill is named also refused to treat people who engaged in premarital sex. Between homosexuals and practitioners of premarital sex, I’m guessing that she wouldn’t be willing to council around 90% of the population. Why the fuck would she even want to be a psychologist?

  • pjmaertz

    That was “counsel”, not “council”, but that’s what I get for submitting from my phone.

  • Rain

    Fundies double-down while the rest of the whole planet passes them by. News at 11:00. In other news, dog bites man, sun rises in the East…


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