Though its 2017 annual conference is only 11 months away, the American Counseling Association is moving the event from Nashville following the passage of a controversial Tennessee law.
In light of the Tennessee governor signing a controversial law that would allow counselors to refuse to provide services based on “strongly held principles,” the American Counseling Association announced on Tuesday that it decided to relocate its 2017 annual conference from Nashville.
“After thoughtful discussion, the ACA Governing Council made the difficult—and courageous—decision on behalf of our membership,” ACA CEO Richard Yep, FASAE, CAE, said in a statement. “Of all the state legislation I have seen passed in my 30 years with ACA, the new Tennessee law based on Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 is by far the worst. This law directly targets the counseling profession, would deny services to those most in need, and constitutes a dilemma for ACA members because it allows for violation of ACA’s Code of Ethics. By relocating from Tennessee, ACA is standing up to this discriminatory law and we remain committed in the battle to ensure that this law does not become the national standard.”
The gravity of the situation that occurred in Tennessee was such that we had to make a major decision because of the new law.
The new law, which directly contradicts ACA’s Code of Ethics, is especially problematic in a state that lacks many needed mental health services, Yep told Associations Now. “The gravity of the situation that occurred in Tennessee was such that we had to make a major decision because of the new law,” he said.
The board voted to move the location of the meeting after surveying ACA members and the specialty divisions. Following the decision, Yep said members largely responded positively to moving the meeting, which was originally scheduled for April 2017.
“This does show what the power of professional associations can do to bring people together—in this case our members—and to help them unite on issues of common concern,” Yep said. “Although we may have lost this particular legislative battle, we’re in for the long game. And I think it’s important that we realize this power of what associations can do to bring people together.”
Some members did, however, see the move as potentially abandoning the counselors in Tennessee who would not use the law. Yep said this is not the case and that ACA will continue to support Tennessee counselors by working with the Tennessee Counseling Association, supporting advocacy efforts, and perhaps fighting for the law’s repeal.
“Our Code of Ethics applies to every member of ACA so whether you live in Tennessee or California or Hawaii or wherever, that Code of Ethics applies to how you practice,” Yep said. “And the unique thing about our Code of Ethics compared to some professional societies is that ours is really designed to protect consumers, and because of that we can’t let up, because this law definitely impacts the ability of a consumer to seek and to receive health services.”
ACA also thanked the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation for its support regardless of the association’s decision. “We are obviously disappointed, but we are not surprised,” Nashville CVC President and CEO Butch Spyridon said in a written statement. “This cancellation is the second one and is likely just the tip of the iceberg when you consider all the other groups that won’t consider us now. It is regrettable that all the hard work and investment to make Nashville a top destination has been unnecessarily undone by politics.”
ACA is now looking for proposals from potential host cities that can fit its needs and do not have any open discrimination bills, a heavy lift considering ACA usually books its annual conference’s meeting locations five years out.