The band of Tennessee lawmakers infamous for the Don’t Say Gay bill have a new piece of legislation to champion, a Don’t Have to Counsel Gays bill.
The legislation would ban public universities from making psychology students counsel anyone the student deems to conflict with their “deeply held religious beliefs,” and prevents the university taking disciplinary action against said student.
The ban’s sponsor in the House is Democratic — you read that right — Representative John K. Deberry, Jr, a minister at Colemand Avenue Church of Christ. As the New Civil Rights Movement notes, Deberry has been an outspoken advocate of the Don’t Say Gay bill but is most infamous for his 2009 legislation to prohibit gay people from adopting. The counseling measure’s senate sponsor is Senator Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.
However, neither Deberry or Hohenwald authored the bill. Conservative David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, drafted both versions of the bill with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, formally the Alliance Defense Fund, whose anti-gay agenda is well established.
The ADF represented a Michigan student named Julea Ward who was expelled from a master’s degree program at Eastern Michigan University for refusing to counsel gay clients or clients who were sexually involved with someone but weren’t married. Ward received a $75,000 settlement last year.
Another student, self-avowed devoted Christian Jennifer Keeton, did not succeed in her suit against Georgia’s Augusta State University over a similar situation where she refused to counsel gay kids because she couldn’t affirm their “choice of lifestyle.”
Naturally, the Republican legislators who have a longstanding animus toward the LGBT community are behind the bill. The legislation made it out of senate committee last week, despite leading health professionals saying that this could damage the counseling profession.
In fact, even the head of the counseling program at Lipscomb University, a Christian university, said that the bill is a bad idea because student counselors must treat a range of clients.
“I want my students to be able to help anyone who walks in their door,” [said Jake Morris, director of the graduate program in counseling]. For example, if a student thinks divorce is sinful, that student still needs to know how to treat clients who have gone through a divorce.”
Students, Morris said, should be exposed to a wide range of clients while in training. That will help them become competent professionals.
“We are health care professionals,” he said. “We need to act like it.”
Senator Stacey Campfield, author of the infamous Don’t Say Gay bill, reportedly managed to turn discussion of the bill even more anti-gay by asking what the rules were surrounding counselors advocating reparative therapy:
“So if someone were to, say, come in and—I’m just going to throw an example out there—say they were a homosexual and a person did not believe that was a natural act and they suggested, say, change therapy? Would that be something you could allow a student to do?”
Other lawmakers appeared aghast that the medical profession didn’t allow for counselors to impose their own morality on those they were counseling, with Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) reportedly saying, “I would think that you should be up front and truthful and tell them if they are doing wrong and try to counsel them to do what’s right. That really disturbs me.”
The Don’t Have to Counsel Gays bill is not the only anti-gay legislation that Tennessee lawmakers are considering at the moment. The reintroduced Don’t Say Gay bill comes with a shiny new clause saying school counselors can out kids who identify as LGBT, and legislation to make it illegal for universities to hold religious clubs to the standards set out in (LGBT-inclusive) nondiscrimination policies has swiftly advanced.
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