The Anti-LGBT bill truly is an embarassment to Tennessee

HB 1840 isn’t about freedom of religion

On Monday, Tennessee legislators passed a bill that could stop LGBT individuals from receiving mental health treatment.

The GOP-sponsored bill, HB 1840, allows private practice therapists and counselors to reject patients if their “goals, outcomes, or behaviors” would violate the “sincerely held principles” of the provider.

Mental health advocacy groups and gay rights organisations have protested the bill, which would permit mental health professionals to discriminate against LGBT patients without legal liability.

HB 1840, which has been nicknamed ‘Hate Bill 1840’, has yet to go before the governor, who has the power to veto it. Governor Haslam recently told reporters he wanted to read the final version of the bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.

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We have to do all we can to ensure Governor Haslam vetoes this legislation. If he fails to do so, members of our community will be put at risk, and a dangerous precedent will be set for the treatment of LGBT individuals in this state.

Religious freedom is extremely important, but this bill is not about protecting religious freedom. It is about denying the LGBT community equal access to healthcare. If you believe everyone should have equal access to healthcare whatever their lifestyle or religious beliefs, i.e. if you actually believe in freedom of conscience, you should be actively opposing this bill.

Art Terrazas, director of government affairs for the American Counseling Association, said HB 1840 technically meant “a therapist opposed to war or U.S. military policy could refuse to treat a veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Some opponents of the bill have voiced concerns that the broad wording could allow discrimination against people of color.

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According to Terrazas, the bill was created by the lobbying efforts of the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The president of FACT, David Fowler, has previously written that the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove “homosexuality” from its list of mental disorders put psychiatry “off track.” He also recently called transgender students “abnormal”.

ADF’s past work has also included clear anti-LGBT activism. The Christian non-profit opposed a gay-inclusive Boy Scouts of America and has worked internationally to criminalize gay sex.

There seems to be a wave of anti-LGBT legislation sweeping across the South. Last week, Mississippi’s governor approved legislation which allows individuals and institutions with religious objections to refuse service to gay couples.

In North Carolina, Governor McCrory signed legislation which excluded LGBT people from protection against discrimination.

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He has since has issued an executive order which reinstates the right to sue for discrimination and prevents state employees from being fired for being gay or transgender. This partial back-track came after two major companies, PayPal and Deutsche Bank, announced they would call off proposed expansions in North Carolina due to the new law.

However the most high-profile part of what has been nicknamed ‘the bathroom law’ was left untouched by McCrory’s executive order. The new legislation still requires transgender individuals to use bathrooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.

Sadly, Tennessee lawmakers are considering the adoption of a similar proposal regarding public bathrooms.

For now though, the main focus in Tennessee is HB 1840. The damage this hate bill could do to individuals, if signed into law by Governor Haslam, is horrible to contemplate.

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HB 1840 was passed 68-22 by the House, and this clear majority demonstrates a complete disregard for the health of LGBT individuals on the part of Tennessee legislators. They must be held accountable for this mistake.

This bill has been described as an embarrassment to Tennessee. It is embarrassing, but we should not attempt to down-play the very real danger it poses. Were it passed, HB 1840 wouldn’t just be embarrassing, it would be dangerous.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-24, and LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.

State legislators in Tennessee have unfortunately proven their willingness to put the lives of these young people at risk. We must protest their decision, and encourage Governor Haslam not to make the same grave mistake.

As Tennessee based psychologist, Leticia Flores, recently wrote: “where a desperate patient needs care, HB 1840 is unnecessary legislation that may be the difference between life and death.”

I urge you to sign this petition, and to write directly to Governor Haslam, urging him to veto this bill. There is a stark difference between allowing people freedom of conscience and enshrining dangerous bigotry into law.

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