New Tennessee law allows therapists to refuse to treat LGBT patients

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

States all over are passing some really bad laws and Tennessee was feeling left out.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law that would allow therapists and counselors to refuse service to patients whose "goals, outcomes, or behaviors" conflict with their “sincerely held principles." Although focusing on the specific area of therapy, the law is similar to ones passed or considered in Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and Indiana that seek to protect people who cite their religious beliefs when discriminating against LGBT people.


The American Counseling Association, which represents 55,000 professional counselors across the country, didn't waste any time condemning the bill in a statement to The Tennessean.

“It not only disproportionately affects LGBTQ Tennesseans seeking counseling, but will also have unintended consequences that will reach Tennesseans in all walks of life—whether it’s a veteran suffering from PTSD, a woman suffering from spousal abuse, or a business owner simply trying to attract out of state clients,” spokesman Art Terrazas told The Tennessean.


According to The Tennessean, the measure actually came about because of a change to the ACA's code of ethics in 2014 to prevent discrimination against clients in need of help.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam defended his decision to sign the bill, pointing out provisions in the law that would prevent anyone from being denied care. The law does not apply in cases where a patient is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, and requires therapists to refer patients they deny under the law to a new counselor.


"I believe it is reasonable to allow these professionals to determine if and when an individual would be better served by another counselor better suited to meet his or her needs," Haslam said to The Tennessean.

Putting aside the danger of enshrining any form of discrimination into law, the measure relies on the judgment of a therapist who would turn away a client based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.