On April 11th the Tennessee Senate approved an amendment to House Bill 1840 (HB 1840) that will allow mental health professionals to refuse patients based on “sincerely held principles,” a change from the previous version of the bill which said “sincerely held religious beliefs.” This change makes the bill more ambiguous, and can allow counselors to refuse care to people due to their own racism, sexism, or homophobia. The amendment even goes against the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) own code of ethics which added a section in 2014 that explicitly states that a counselor or therapist cannot refuse treatment to a client based purely on “personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.”
There is still a chance for the bill to be vetoed by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R), but if he signs it into law the bill will have widespread ramifications in the LGBT+ community, likely hitting teenagers the hardest. LGBT+ youth are 2-3 times more likely to commit suicide than others in their age group, and if their parents do not accept them that number jumps to 8 times more likely. When 80-90% of teenagers with depression are successfully treated through therapy, having a counselor turn you down for treatment because of your sexual orientation of gender identity can be crushing. It is a counselor’s job to listen and offer advice without judgment regardless of their personal beliefs and this bill would make Tennessee the only state with a law that directly violates the ACA’s code of ethics.
Implementing a law like this will only make closing the health coverage gap harder. People in the LGBT+ community are more likely to not have health insurance, less likely to say they have excellent or very good health, more likely to delay seeking medical care, and are more likely to receive health care in the emergency room. Even today, 39% of all transgender people face some type of harassment just for seeking routine health care. Mental health professionals need to work with the health industry and state governments to reduce harassment in the health care sector, not encourage it, and this bill along with the bathroom discrimination bills being passed in many states recently will make harassment worse and health care tougher to get.
There is a long road ahead to achieve the goal of equal heath, both mental and physical care for every citizen, and building new walls to make it even harder to receive care only makes the gap worsen. I urge Governor Haslam to veto this bill and fear that if it becomes law the statistics cited here will only become more dire.
Editor's Note: Contact Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and let him know that you support LGBT+ equality and that you want him to veto HB 1840. You can contact Governor Haslam here.
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