Metro Weekly

Bowser and other mayors urge Tennessee governor to veto counseling exemption bill

Mayoral coalition says anti-gay law is so broad it could lead to discrimination against other groups

Muriel Bowser (Photo: American Federation of Government Employees, via Wikimedia).
Muriel Bowser (Photo: American Federation of Government Employees, via Wikimedia).

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her fellow big-city mayors are rallying to the defense of Tennessee’s LGBT community.

Bowser is a member of Mayors Against Discrimination, a coalition of city executives from major metropolitan areas who support LGBT rights and oppose any actions intended to restrict freedoms for that vulnerable community. On Tuesday, the coalition sent a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) urging him to veto a bill that would allow counselors and therapists to refuse service to LGBT clients by citing personal objections — including those that are not based on religious beliefs or moral principles.

“In addition to violating the ethics of all major counseling professions, which prohibit unfair discrimination against patients, the bill legally sanctions intolerance in your state and needlessly places Tennessee residents at risk,” the letter reads. “The bill before you would legally permit a licensed counselor or therapist to turn away a patient based on the mental health professional’s own beliefs or principles, a proposal that squarely targets LGBT individuals seeking such services. In addition to legalizing forms of discrimination in your state, the legislation could cause individuals to go without needed care if they are refused treatment by the only available counselor, a possibility in schools and rural areas.”

The coalition estimates that nearly one-quarter of Tennessee’s 6.5 million residents live in rural areas, meaning they have fewer mental health professionals from whom they may seek treatment. The mayors also note that the broadly-written nature of the bill could potentially lead to other forms of discrimination, such as a therapist refusing to treat a veteran.

In addition to Bowser, other signatories of the letter are San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney; Kitty Piercy, the mayor of Eugene, Ore.; Javier Gonzales, the mayor of Santa Fe; and Jim Ellison, the mayor of Royal Oak, Mich.

“[The bill] sets a dangerous precedent of intolerance for LGBT and other minority communities and will specifically impact already vulnerable individuals seeking mental health services,” the mayors’ letter continues. “We ask for your veto to prevent this misguided bill from becoming law.”

Haslam is expected to make a decision on whether to veto or sign the bill into law in the coming days. The mayors’ letter follows a Care2 online petition calling on Haslam to veto the bill in question, which has been signed by more than 36,000 people.

“There is already a severe shortage of mental health care providers in this country,” the petition’s author and Care2 Campaign Writer Kelsey Bourgeois, said in a statement. “It’s reprehensible that anyone would want to deny certain populations of this necessary care. Counselors are professionals that can and should prioritize their clients’ needs over their own private beliefs.”



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