“Counseling Bill starts to cost the state in lost revenue”

This article by Cari Wade Gervin was originally published by The Nashville Scene (Pith in the Wind) and can be viewed here.

his afternoon, the American Counseling Association canceled its planned 2017 annual conference at the Music City Center over concerns with the recently signed bill that allows counselors to reject clients based on with whom they like to have sex (or based on any other “sincerely held principles” a counselor might hold). And Richard Yep, the CEO of ACA, did not mince words, stating in a press release announcing the cancelation: “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.”

Sure, it’s just one conference, just 3,000 less people who will visit Nashville next summer. Sure, it’s just $4 million less in estimated tax revenue (and lord knows, those economic estimates of conventions are regularly overstated). But when the governor’s press secretary is issuing weak statements like,”They had said they were considering that, and they won’t experience all that Tennessee has to offer,” well, that’s not really encouraging.

This is not going to be the last conference canceled. This is not going to be the last lost revenue. Haslam may be trying to drum up business from Asia right now, but he should be more worried about all the business the legislature’s homophobia and hate is about to cost the state.

Update, 10:20 p.m.: Jennifer Donnals, the otherwise very pleasant press secretary of Gov. Bill Haslam, with whom’s statement we took issue earlier, sent along a follow-up comment this evening. (Which, because I was out at dinner, took a bit to get to.) She comments:

You’ll remember that just two years ago the ACA followed the same practice and recommendation that this law puts in place. The governor believes that, at the end of the day, counselors should be like any other professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, and have the availability to decide whether they can appropriately serve a client. This law provides that a therapist cannot turn away someone in a life-threatening situation and has to refer the client to another appropriate therapist, providing protection for the client as well as respecting the therapist as a professional.

For what it’s worth — which, to the Tennessee GOP, obviously is nada — there was nothing previously in the law preventing counselors of any faith or political inclination from declining to see patients, for any reason. In fact, therapists across the state decline new patients on a daily basis because the would-be patients don’t have the right insurance, or the therapists’ calendars are already too full, or just because they don’t feel like they’d be the right fit with a particular patient. There are many Christian therapists doing excellent work across the state; they were not the ones pushing for this bill.

I’d also note that while Haslam seems so very concerned about conservative Christian therapists’ rights, he doesn’t seem so concerned with what happens to their patients. Haslam has been a regular, sizable donor to Nashville-based Mercy Ministries (now Mercy Multiplied) over the years.  As this paper has reported in the past and as Slate detailed exhaustively two weeks ago, the organization’s treatment centers do not even require its counselors to be licensed mental health practitioners, and they possibly promote belief in demonic possession as a source of mental illness and addiction, and reputedly utilize the widely discredited recovered-memory therapy.

But as this administration has shown time and again, the poor don’t matter, women don’t matter, and victims don’t matter, even at the cost of a loss of federal funds or tax revenue, even at the cost of saving the governor’s own reputation. Enjoy your last day in Asia, Bill. Jetlag’s gonna be a bitch.

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