Tennessee’s shameful new “therapist bill” isn’t just anti-LGBTQ. It’s pro-suicide.

Hey Tennessee. It’s me, Thom. And I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the honesty of your embarrassing new “therapist bill.”

I understand that passing thinly-veiled anti-LGBTQ legislation couched as “religious liberty” protection is all the rage these days — lookin’ at you, North Carolina and Mississippi and South Dakota and Georgia and Indiana and so on ad nauseum infinitum.

I also understand that it’s hard to find a cool new way to spin your discriminatory language and actions, after so many others did the same before you — and, oh yeah, reaped some pretty awful economic consequences in the process.

But you, Tennessee. The Volunteer State.” You just willingly volunteered the awful, heartless truth at the core of this entire struggle:

See, that Senate Bill 1556 that you just passed? It’s not just anti-LGBTQ. It’s shamelessly pro-suicide.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Your Senate Bill 1556 allows counselors and therapists to deny service to patients with “goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist.”

Translation: therapists, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health service providers have a legal excuse to refuse treatment for gay or transgender clients, despite the fact that LGBTQ people are at significantly greater risk for suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people, and 9th overall. But more than 40% of transgender people have tried to kill themselves, and 30% of gay youth have tried by the age of 15, compared to 4.6% of the general population.

Those other states I mentioned all at least tried to maintain plausible deniability to hide the fact that they are plainly culpable in this epidemic — like how phone calls to a trans suicide hotline in North Carolina have literally doubled since HB2 went into effect.

But you, Tennessee? You just put it right out there in the open and admitted that you want my friends and family to kill themselves.

Oh, don’t worry. I caught that “clever” way you tried to spin your vile rhetoric to sidestep the blame. I’m a writer; word games are my game. So I caught how you carefully removed specific religious references from the bill before it passed — even though that was the entire impetus behind the bill in the first place.

Tell me: what other “sincerely held belief” might a therapist have that would conflict with their work? Would their “sincerely held belief” in, say, the sanctity of marriage lead them to deny service to a woman who wants to divorce her abusive husband? What if a patient is having issues with one of their parents — thus offending the 5th Commandment of “Honor thy mother and father?” You think any therapist will exercise their right to turn their patient away?

No, you just saw how these exact same acts of discrimination backfired in other states, and in your efforts to avoid that same fate, ended up bluntly coming out in favor of people killing themselves.

And those referral requirements? The safety clause? They’re nothing more than lip service, acting under the fantastical assumption that an LGBTQ person would be willing to risk outing themselves to a potential discriminatory counselor.

Credit where credit’s due: I did notice that the bill requires counselors to arrange referrals to other counselors for their rejected clients, and the obligatory expectation for counselors to act in situations where the individual is likely to harm themself, or another person.

But let’s be realistic: any LGBTQ person in need of counseling in Tennessee is already terrified. They’re scared of being outed, or assaulted, or otherwise discriminated against. And now they have to be scared of being rejected by a therapist?

So congratulations! you just succeeded in further ostracizing a struggling group, compounding their already-existing feelings of self-doubt and isolation. How could someone be expected to open up to a therapist if they can’t trust that person?

And even if someone is willing to put themselves at risk like that, and the counselor does help the client to find a referral, do you know how long it could take to schedule an appointment? It may have already taken that person 3 months to find this therapist who refuses to treat them; now they have to go through the process again?

No therapist will ever be forced to act under that “self-harm” clause because no LGBTQ patient will even have a chance to open up in a way that exposes themself, regardless of the suffering they might endure through those 6 months of waiting. And if they’re already having thoughts of self-harm, you can bet they’re going to hurt themselves while they’re waiting for the next available appointment.

At best, Senate Bill 1556 is the legislative equivalent of a schoolyard bully mocking its frequent victim on the playground with incessant, nasal cries of “I’m not touching you!”

Supporters of these discriminatory bills often fall back on the defense of “Think of the women and children!” But if you really wanted to protected your loved ones, you wouldn’t try to pre-emptively harm people for whom there isabsolutely no evidence that they are a threat.

If you really want us to “think of the children,” then think about the ones who are killing themselves, and the ones left behind to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of an unresolved, unexplainable tragedy like suicide.

Think of the sons and daughters who are already hurting so much that they would rather die than keep living through the pain.

Think of the parents are bury their children in covered caskets because they can’t stomach the sight.

Think of the sons like me who are forced to sit through a funeral where a priest delivers dressed-up platitudes that tip-toe around the fact that the church believes that suicides won’t be allowed into Heaven. That Jesus preached “Love thy neighbor” and kept company with prostitutes, but someone who I loved felt so tortured that they felt compelled to end their life and can’t even find peace in Heaven.

You’ve already made it clear that you have no empathy for LGBTQ people. But if I can’t change your mind on that, I hope you will at least have empathy for the plague of suicide ravaging our nation.

The author Philip K. Dick once said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” And Tennessee’s exemption for “sincerely held beliefs” is nothing more than an attempt to remain willfully ignorant of reality. Beliefs can’t change the fact that suicide is a serious issue that affects everyone’s life. It doesn’t just affect LGBTQ people; suicides among middle-aged white men are on the rise as well, because they’re the only ones potential benefitting from these kinds of arrogant, stubborn political acts, and now they’re feeling marginalized because the rest of the world isn’t okay with it. Situations like this just exacerbate the problem for everyone.

So thank you, Tennessee, for plainly displaying your blatant lack of empathy, for all the world to see.

And if you’re reading this and you still support this kind of legislation? Please stop hiding. Email me directly and tell me straight-up that you want my friends and family to kill themselves.

Because there’s no point in pretending anymore that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is anything but monstrous.

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