Counseling Groups Partner to Fight Bill They Say Allows For Discrimination

The American Counseling Association has partnered with other organizations to oppose a Tennessee bill they say would permit discrimination against LGBT people based on a service provider’s personal beliefs.

Counseling and equality groups are speaking out against a bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives they say would allow for discrimination against LGBT individuals.

House Bill 140 (called “Hate Bill 1840” by its opponents), which passed the state senate in February, would allow counselors to deny therapy to clients based on the counselor’s “deeply held religious beliefs.”

Now the American Counseling Association (ACA)—along with the Tennessee Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (TAMFT), the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), and other groups—are combining their resources, experience, and clout to bring attention to the potentially devastating effects of the proposed legislation.

“Hate Bill 1840 penalizes people for seeking healthcare … and undermines people’s right to healthcare,” said TEP Executive Director Christopher Sanders during a March 29 press call. “It puts government between therapist and patient and allows a therapist to discriminate based on a personal belief.”

Art Terrazas, ACA’s government affairs director, says such legislation would especially affect people in rural areas, who already have limited options when it comes to choosing counselors and also may be socioeconomically disadvantaged, leaving them unable to obtain care in neighboring cities and towns.

TAMFT President Barney Self said that his organization was “100 percent in lockstep” with ACA’s outreach efforts, adding that the overlapping membership that his group shares with ACA enabled the two groups to “act quickly on an issue that affects both of our members and their clients profoundly.”

Part of that combined effort is a coalition-driven online ad campaign against House Speaker Beth Harwell and other lawmakers. One of the ads says that “businesses won’t come to a state that discriminates.”

But ACA also has a broader issue with the proposed legislation, saying if the bill is signed into law, it would allow professional counselors in Tennessee to disregard a piece of 2014 ACA Code of Ethics and essentially permit discrimination.

“HB 1840 is an unprecedented attack on the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics, something to which nearly 60,000 counselors abide,” said the group on its website. “It is also an unwanted and unnecessary blow to the counseling profession and those who benefit from the services of a professional counselor.”

The Tennessee bill is among many that associations, along with corporations, have recently spoken out about. Last month a law signed into effect by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory that nullified local antidiscrimination ordinances was rebuked by many, including ASAE, and groups have been equally vocal in opposition to similar legislative moves in other states, including Indiana, although that law was later clarified and rolled back.

Newton Holt

By Newton Holt

Newton Holt, a former senior editor of Associations Now, is a freelance writer, editor, and communication strategist in Washington, DC. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!