Imagine being a gay, bisexual, or transgender teen in a small town in Tennessee. No one understands your life and you feel like an outcast. Your parents may not support you being out; maybe you haven't even come out to them yet. At school, you're bullied and harassed daily for who you are. You are confused. You are hurt. You don't know what to do. So, you decide to seek advice and see a counselor.
Thanks to the Tennessee legislature and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, your plea for help just might be rejected.
In April , Haslam signed a dangerous piece of legislation into law -- House Bill1840, a.k.a. the "The Counseling Discrimination Bill." However, this was not your typical "religious freedom" bill.
This statute now allows the religious beliefs of counselors and therapists to be an excuse for terminating or refusing care to clients because of moral objections to how the client identifies. Basically, this law allows mental health professionals to put their own beliefs above and before the needs of their clients. The worst part is about HB1840 is how it puts added stress on a group of people already reeling from anxiety -- if you live in rural Tennessee and can't find an empathetic mental health professional, you could be forced to travel hundreds of miles to more liberal places like Nashville or Memphis.
This law violate several provisions of the Tennessee constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.
Our young people and community need us. That is why Tennessee native Bleu Copas and I, recently filed a lawsuit against this absurd, discriminatory, and unconstitutional statute.
No one should have to worry about their counselor not believing their life is valid and refusing them service. The goal of our lawsuit is to send a clear message to Tennessee that discrimination will not be tolerated, especially when it jeopardizes patients seeking mental health services. Living in a small, conservative Arizona town called Surprise, I was severely bullied in high school, and and there was not any support for people like me. I couldn't imagine being rejected by a counselor at a time when I might have needed one the most.
Some might not see this law as harmful, and you might actually see it as a benefit; a gay client with an antigay counselor is not an ideal situation for either the client or the counselor. While I understand their point, we must remember that in many parts of rural Tennessee, there are very few counselors. Furthermore and most importantly, health professionals -- EMTs, doctors, counselors, and therapists, etc. -- must all treat their patients without letting their personal beliefs obstruct their duties. Denying services and letting your beliefs get in the way of your work in the medical field is actually against many codes of ethics and should never occur.
One year ago we celebrated the incredible Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Unfortunately, in the aftermath, we have seen a wave of bills in the name of "religious freedom" that are truly anti-LGBT bills in disguise. Everyone should be outraged by insidious legislation like HB1840 and at the officials who allowed this bill to become a law.
This is not the America that I know. The America that I know is about defending all citizens, ensuring justice and freedom, and safeguarding the American way. We will continue to fight for what is right, and I have no intention of stopping until our community is completely protected, not harmed, by the law.
CALEB LAIESKI is an a Washington, D.C.-based advocate for the LGBT community, public safety, and the environment. Follow him on Twitter @CalebMLaieski.