Arkansas panel approves rule allowing counselors opt-out from serving LGBT clients

Arkansas legislators gave final approval to rule allowing counselors to opt-out of serving LGBT clients.

Following the passage in Tennessee of a law allowing counselors to refer clients to another provided if they have a religious objection to treating them, other states seem ready to jump on yet another opportunity to discriminate against LGBT persons.

According to the Associated Press, “Arkansas lawmakers have given final approval to a rule allowing counselors to refer clients to another provider if they have a religious objection to treating them, a measure that critics say could deny mental health services to gay and lesbian people.”

The rule was proposed by the Arkansas state Board of Examiners in Counseling, which regulates 2,800 counselors and marriage and family therapists in the state.

The AP writes, “The rule would allow counselors to refer a client over ‘ethical, moral or religious principles’ but only after careful consideration and consultation. It also says counselors cannot abandon someone who seeks assistance.”

Max Brantly, writing for the Arkansas Times, said, “This is a mirror image of the anti-abortion crowd's effort to throw up every barrier possible to abortion, under the bogus pretext of women's health. Many of the same people are using religion as a cover to legalize discrimination against LGBT people. Here, a young person conflicted by sexual issues or perhaps bulled in school, could be turned away by a counselor with whose ‘ethical, moral or religious’ principles stood in the way of his or her help.”

When the Council first considered the rule in June, condemnation was immediate. “’Here we are in Arkansas, trying to find another way to discriminate against the LGBT population’, says Tippi McCullough, President of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas,” quoted by THV11, a Little Rock TV station.

"’There are so many schools in Arkansas, especially in rural areas, where maybe they only have one counselor, and if that's a counselor that has this religious objection, that's a huge problem for our students’,” McCullough explained to the station.

The original meeting to consider the rule was mere days after the Orlando terror attack on Pulse, an LGBT nightclub, that killed 49 people. The decision was delayed because it would create bad optics according to Brantly.

The rule change is opposed by the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the American Counseling Association.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Gayly – July 12, 2016 @ 1:35 p.m.