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Emily Dievendorf

Views & Voices

Michigan bill would allow counseling students to refuse LGBT patients

Monday, June 18, 2012
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Last week, extremists in the Michigan Legislature made passage of House Bill 5040, or what I like to call the “First Do Harm” bill, a major priority before breaking for the summer.

The bill would prohibit public colleges and universities from disciplining students participating in counseling, social work and psychology programs who refuse treatment to a patient based on the patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity, if the discrimination is motivated by a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Proponents of the bill insist they are merely trying to protect our constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Let me call their bluff here. The Constitution of The United States is, perhaps, the most powerful document in the history of our country. It is a document so indomitable, that when ways to wrong each other had been written into the original document, decades were needed to reverse the humiliating mistakes.

While its content may change, necessarily, over time it is hard to argue with the resilience of the document.

I harbor an intense love of our constitutional rights and am grateful that our country’s dignity and honor rests on a declaration of national values so solid that we never need to write protections for our constitution into legislation.

Legislation that contradicts the United States Constitution tends to crumble under the Constitution – in great part because offenses to constitutional rights can be challenged, as was so brilliantly planned, directly through the United States judicial system.

We don’t need to defend the Constitution so why are we entertaining this offensive legislation? Sadly, taxpayer dollars are being used to move along legislation so broad and punishing as to allow discrimination against anybody, for any reason to be justified at a person’s very moment of crisis.

People opt for professional guidance when they are at their breaking points or see that point on the horizon. Crisis is not the time to turn somebody away because something about them doesn’t fit your personal ideals.

Professional counseling, social work, and psychological standards for practice recognize the need for counselors to be trained to offer relief to everybody. Discrimination based on various categories, including age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, language preference, and socioeconomic status is prohibited by national counseling standards.

To ask a university counseling program to permit a counselor in training to reject national standards for practice in the field they are being trained threatens the accreditation of that counseling program. To turn away a client based on their fitting any of the aforementioned categories does potentially irreversible damage to the client in need’s self-worth, stability, trust in the profession, and ultimately to their intrinsic ability to address personal challenges and heal.

The strength of one’s convictions alone is not justification in and of itself for any action — it is a despicable excuse for damaging another human being.

Essentially, what the Michigan House leadership worked to do last week was to create a gap in law large enough to empower our states counseling, social work, and psychology students to do HARM to clients if their own personal beliefs inspire them to do so.

We are telling students going into these important fields that they will be entitled to power that we demand other health and wellness providers abandon expressly because of their responsibility to our most vulnerable – the power to DO harm.

House Bill 5040 threatens clients seeking counseling with rejection based on their race, relationship status, and faith, or, yes, because of their sexual orientation, or perhaps because they are straight, or because they are white, or male – as long as the discrimination and harm is based on a strong belief that some characteristic about them as a client is judged to be wrong.

Michigan’s House leadership continues to show little resistance to extremist members despite a majority of Michigan residents consistently polling in favor of social justice.

The resulting political agenda translates into a destructive and malicious campaign that tells youth, the best and brightest students, skilled workers, entrepreneurs, new and cutting edge industries, and our loved ones to either “keep out or leave.”

Equality Michigan hopes that the Michigan Senate will choose to be rational – a voice of reason for the Michigan Republican Caucus and opt to not embarrass our state, again, by entertaining the kind of out of touch legislation that was brought to us in the “license to bully” earlier this year, and kill this effort to hurt Michigan Families if “first do harm” comes up for a vote.

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