Well, apparently Michigan Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) has a competitive streak and didn’t like Michigan being anything less than the worst. And so in March he introduced House Bill 5040, aka the “Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act.” This odious bill, according to Emily Dievendorf, director of policy at Equality Michigan, “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.’”
In other words, if you’re gay or lesbian and you want mental-health care and your counselor or therapist thinks homos are yucky, they don’t have to help you.
A little backstory here: Julea Ward was a student at Eastern Michigan University who got booted from the counseling program there because she refused to help a gay student, because it offended her because of Jesus or whatever. Afterward she became a hero to antigay folks everywhere, obviously.
“Every individual is entitled to religious beliefs and should not be reprimanded for those beliefs,” Haveman stated.
Um, yes, we’re all entitled to believe whatever we want, batshit crazy or otherwise, and nobody denied Ward that. However, being gay is not a belief, it’s a real thing. And gay people are human beings, which, presumably, someone in a counseling program has a desire to help.
“Ms. Ward did not deny counseling to the client,” Haveman continued. “She requested to refer the client to another counselor, and by being responsible to make sure the client received the best counseling available, she was punished.”
In other words, Ward was not capable of providing the best counseling available. So why should she get a counseling degree? Oh, yeah. Because she didn’t want to help a gay person and that’s a matter of “conscience.” Now, if she had refused to help someone because they were Hispanic or because they were confined to a wheelchair, then everyone would call that blatant discrimination.
According to Dievendorf, “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.”
So by saying, “Hey, I don’t want to treat gay people,” Ward essentially said, “Hey, I am not qualified for this program.” Just like if you want to be a doctor and you say, “Oh, by the way, I don’t believe in medicine and science and will just pray to Jesus on behalf of my sick patients,” you should be shown the door — not given a diploma.
I have heard the argument made again and again that this bill actually benefits gay clients because who wants to be counseled by a homophobe? And, yes, that is true. But not everyone has the luxury of shopping around when it comes to care providers. Some people are limited by insurance or lack thereof. Nor do kids who see school social workers have many options. And the last thing an LGBT kid struggling with his or her sexuality needs is a counselor who says, “You’re too broken to help.”
But for Haveman and the others who supported this bill, religious rights — and let’s be clear, that really means “Christian rights” — trump LGBT civil rights every time.