Counseling discrimination becomes law; TEP launches Counseling Unconditionally

After working with allies the entire legislative session, especially the American Counseling Association and many counselors in Tennessee, to defeat HB1840, we had hoped for a veto.  We know the Governor carefully considered his decision, but the reality we now face is that counselors will be able to discriminate against clients based on the counselor’s principles.  We continue to worry particularly about rural LGBT people who may not have adequate resources for counseling in their communities. 

Counseling Unconditionally:  To address the need for counseling across the state, we are launching Counseling Unconditionally today.  This initiative allows counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers to identify themselves as practitioners who will not turn away clients simply based on their values and principles.  Those interested may sign up at .  We know that the vast majority of professionals are eager to help everyone who walks through their door.  Their compassion and commitment to ethical standards of care can help repair some of the damage this legislation has caused.  It will take legislation or a court order to do the rest.

UT-Knoxville diversity:  Please, continue to share the petition urging the Governor to veto the bill that strips funds from the diversity office at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.  Here is the link so you can take action.

We are grateful for all your work.

Chris Sanders
Executive Director

ACT NOW while there is still a chance for a veto of discriminatory bills

Yesterday The Tennessean reported that Governor Haslam has not ruled out using his veto pen again.  Speaking after legislators adjourned for the year, he said, "They have a constitutional responsibility and we do too." 

There's still a chance, which we means we have to do all we can to push for a veto of the Counseling Discrimination bill and the effort to take funds away from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's diversity office.


1. Call or Tweet the Governor asking him to veto HB1840 because it is bad for the counseling profession and bad for clients.  Tweet using @BillHaslam and #VetoHB1840.  You can call and leave a message at 615-741-2001.  When you have called or Tweeted, let us know at this link.

2.  Sign the petition urging the Governor to veto the bill taking funds away from UT-Knoxville's diversity office at this link.

3. If you've already done both, consider forwarding the email to friends.

Thank you for fighting so hard during this tough legislative session.


Chris Sanders
Executive Director

Shifting the discussion about religion and discrimination


Separation of Church and state--it's a time honored phrase or at least a paraphrase that comes from the founders of our country.

Many of us like the phrase because it is the right idea, indeed, the correct interpretation of the law, but it doesn't do the work we need it to do in a state like Tennessee

Many social conservatives know that the phrase never appears in the Constitution itself.  They also know that some states had established religions into the 19th Century.  Yes, Massachusetts had state supported religion until 1833!  And in Tennessee many of them also know that over 50% of the population is Evangelical Protestant.  On top of that, I think what religious social conservatives hear when we say "separation of Church and state" is that we're trying to keep Christians out of politics.

And maybe some people do wish that.  What I hope we mean when we use the phrase is that we oppose enshrining a particular/majority religion or any religion in law.  I hope we mean that law ought to be based on a sense of the common good and the practical needs of the people based on reason and evidence.  And how about science, too!

Here's the fact we have to contend with.  If you believe in democracy, that means that in Tennessee Evangelical Protestants ARE going to shape the laws of this state.  There's just no avoiding it.  There are thankfully constitutional limits, but the influence is going to be there for quite some time.

Our task is to shift the discussion to the use of religion to promote discrimination.  That strikes me as something that people who are religious and non-religious can talk about together.  The lawyers and the judges can and should guide us on the boundaries between religion and government.  But we can all, whether we're specialists or not, talk more about the place of discrimination in religion. 

I don't think we have to accept the phrase "That's just what I believe" when it comes to using religion to justify discrimination in the public square or in a private business.  When actions inspired by your religious beliefs have a public impact, then we actually have a duty to discuss it.

It's the separation of religion and discrimination where we can change the conversation.  It recognizes that separation of Church and state isn't enough.  If we succeeded in separating Church and state and religion was still being used to promote discrimination, people would continue to suffer. 

If you agree, consider endorsing the statement.

And if these issues interest you, consider checking out Jennifer Sheridan's new film project.



The anti-transgender bathroom bill is "personal to me." --Brendon Holloway

The anti-transgender student bathroom bill is personal to me.  As a trans man and a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, one of the schools that would be affected by this legislation, I'm outraged.BrendonRally.JPG

I have been to Legislative Plaza several times to work against this bill, to tell my story and the story of friends across the state.  I have organized against it in Murfreesboro.  Sometimes legislators have a breakthrough, sometimes they don't.  But I am not deterred because I know that this bill will make life Hell for transgender and gender non-conforming students around the state.

I'm asking you to sign one more petition, regardless of whether you live in Tennessee, urging Governor Haslam to keep listening to those opposed to the bill.  It will be part of a multi-organization petition drop next week.

Please, speak out now while there is still time to beat this bill.

Gratefully yours,
Brendon Holloway
TEP Rutherford County Chair

TEP condemns House passage of Hate Bill 1840, the Counseling Discrimination bill

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252 and


Nashville, TN--The Tennessee Equality Project condemns House passage of HB1840, also known as Hate Bill 1840 and the Counseling Discrimination bill.  We call on Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill.  Citizens can join the call for a veto at this link.

By putting the focus on counselors instead of clients, the bill damages the counseling profession and puts vulnerable clients at risk.  We are particularly concerned about rural LGBT people who already have limited access to affirming mental health services.

Opposed by over 50 Tennessee clergy, the bill does not represent the religious freedom it purports to protect.

An anti-bullying amendment that would have protected minors who are victims of bullying was stripped from the bill during a House Health Committee meeting.  View TEP's video on the anti-bullying amendment at this link.

By passing a religious refusal bill, the Legislature has opened the door to discrimination in Tennessee and our state could experience the same national wrath that Indiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi are now facing.

TEP thanks the American Counseling Association, the many Tennessee counseling associations, and those state legislators who opposed the bill.  In particular, we are grateful to Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. John Ray Clemmons for offering amendments that generated important debate about the bill in an effort to protect the most vulnerable Tennesseans from its consequences.


Our opposition is refighting the Civil War

The Family Action Council, the organization lobbying for the counseling discrimination and the anti-transgender student bathroom bill, is drawing parallels to the Civil War.  It's stunning really.

Consider this passage in their April 1 post: 

I don’t know how this new “war” will be resolved, but I don’t think it will have to be resolved in the same was as the earlier one. I could be wrong, but I sense there are a lot of people down South who would not mind if the liberals from up North and out West took the advice of their governors and Hollywood moguls, respectively, and decided to stay where they are. The ones among them who want to live in a place that has enough common sense to keep men out of women’s restrooms will just keep migrating to the South.

Now we know why they're fighting so hard against us.  They are trying to preserve a South that never was, a South without LGBT people or those who support us.  Who even says things like "stay where they are" these days?

There is another South that you and I know.  It's a South where mothers testify at Legislative Plaza for their transgender children and transgender students themselves tell legislators about their lives.  It's a South where same-sex couples are at last able to protect themselves and their children through marriage.  It's a South where clergy are beginning to speak out against hate, where they are resisting the use of religion to keep others down.

I'll take that South and I know you will, too.  It will take work to build it as the hateful structures continue to tumble down. 

Win or lose this week in the Legislature, we are going to prevail because love wins.  Help us move the message of love and acceptance at this link with your support.

Chris Sanders

Tennessee clergy oppose HB1840, the counseling discrimination bill

Tennessee clergy are speaking out against HB1840, known as Hate Bill 1840, with the following statement:

"As faith leaders and clergy serving people in Tennessee, we urge the Tennessee House of Representatives to reject House Bill 1840, which allows counselors to turn clients away based on the counselor's religious beliefs.  Those seeking counseling deserve the highest standard of care and we believe the American Counseling Association's code of ethics provides that standard."

Rev. Emily Reeves Grammer, Nashville

Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Spangler, Knoxville

Rev. Michael Williams, Nashville

Rev. Adam Kelchner, Nashville

Rev. Tim Kobler, Knoxville

Rev. Nancy Speas Hill, Franklin

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, retired, The United Methodist Church, Hermitage

Rev. Allison Hancock, Memphis

Rev. Deven Hazelwood, Johnson City

Rev. Pamela Hawkins, Nashville

Rev. Eric Posa, Memphis

Rabbi Josh Barton, Nashville

Rev. William (Will) Berger, Franklin

Rev. Laura Bogle, Maryville

Rev. Bryan Currie, Nashville

Jon Coffee, ministerial candidate, Knoxville

Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper, Memphis

Rev. V. Jill Sizemore, Knoxville

Rev. Ken Carroll, Chattanooga

Rev. Andrew B. Ward, Goodlettsville

Rev. Orisha Bowers, Memphis

Rev. Paul Slentz, Nashville

Rev. Steve Wolf, Clarksville

Rev. William Warren, Germantown

Rev. John A Smith, Nashville

Rev. Byron Forester, Memphis

Rev. Steven Shelton, Bartlett

Rev. Lisa Anderson, Memphis

Rev. Mark Brown, Memphis

Rev. Dr. Gillian Marie Klee, Memphis

Rev. Ruth Lovell Bradham, Cordova

Rev. Anne Fraley, Lebanon

Rev. James C. Pappas III, Fayetteville

Rev. Dorothy Chatham Hartzog, retired Episcopal priest, Clarksville

Rev. Mark C. Pafford, Cookeville

Rev. Michael Alford, Nashville

Rev. Lisa Gwock, Nashville

Rev. Joey Reed, OSL, Jackson

Rev. Kira Schlesinger, Lebanon

Pastor Tommy Artist, Johnson City

Bishop Charles Headley, Jefferson City

Rev. Cheryl Cornish, Memphis

Rev. John Burruss, Memphis

Barney Self, Ed.D., LMFT, Pastoral Counseling Minister and President of TNAMFT, Forest Hills

Bishop Patrick Potts, Johnson City

Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler, Nashville

Rev. Eric S. Greenwood, Jr., Nashville

Rev. Eugene J. Bolton, Nashville

Cantor Tracy L. Fishbein, Nashville

Rev. Greg Bullard, Madison

Rev. Renee Dillard, Memphis

Rev. Kevin Mitchell, Murfreesboro


If you are a member of the clergy serving people in Tennessee and would like to sign the statement, contact us with your name and city at .

Transgender Day of Visibility: Fighting for Social Justice by Brendon Holloway

A guest post by Brendon Holloway, TEP Rutherford County Committee Chair

BrendonRally.JPGTransgender Day of Visibility is about more than just being visible; it is about fighting for social justice for transgender individuals in the community and at state and federal levels. It is about being visible on a social and political platform. It is about making your voice heard. How can a transgender person make a difference in politics? Be visible. Be visible in your community (if you can, of course) and be visible to your elected officials. 

During the holiday season, a Republican representative from my hometown was hinting at proposing an anti-trans bathroom bill. In response, I emailed him and we met for coffee the day after Christmas. He saw me for who I was and he respected that. For the first time, he sat down with a transgender man and heard the other side of the story. After meeting up several times, he completely backed away from the anti-trans bathroom bill and admitted that he had no idea of the hardships trans people face. He said that he would have never understood a trans person’s perspective if we hadn’t met for coffee. I understand that most politicians aren’t as open-minded as he was, but sometimes being visible and speaking up will open ones mind.

Shortly before this, I met up with my mayor regarding an LGBTQ rally. We spoke about having a rally at the courthouse in Murfreesboro and what legal steps I should take to be able to do so. Although he wasn’t open to the idea of an indoor rally, he said an outdoor rally would be appropriate. If I didn’t speak with him professionally and let my personal identity show, then I’m not sure if he would’ve been so receptive. When it comes to lawmakers and elected officials, sometimes they just need to see that you are a real person. The same goes for the pronoun issue at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. When UTK’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion posted a gender-neutral pronoun chart, our lawmakers immediately jumped on it. Without hesitation, I went to Legislative Plaza and met with a few senators who would be hearing the issue. Although their minds didn’t instantly change, they were open to discussing the issue and learning more about it and offered to meet with me later in the week. Engaging with elected officials is important and being visible can make a difference politically.

Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of empowerment for our trans brothers, sisters, friends, and family. Today is a day for us to stand up and show that we can make a difference, too. I have been spending much of my time on Capitol Hill in Nashville for the past year trying to make a difference in the LGBTQ community, especially for the trans community. I’ve changed minds, hearts, and learned how to be a political activist while also staying true to my identity and who I am. Today is a day for us to be recognized but every day is a day for us to be visible.

Redundant mini-RFRA on notice next week in House Civil Justice Subcommittee

And it never ends. 

A mini-RFRA is on notice for the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 23.  HB2375 by Rep. Holt says that clergy can't be required to marry someone if marrying that someone violates their religious beliefs.  It adds that facilities controlled by a religious organization can't be forced to participate or be used for a wedding that conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief.  Refusal of services can't be punished with a civil action or criminal charges or any other state sanction.

The bill seems pretty redundant given the First Amendment to the Constitution. 

Also on notice in the same subcommittee for the same day is another bill by Rep. Holt, is HB2508, which is a marriage caption bill.  We'll see whether he runs it and what he fills it in with. 

Stay alert for updates.



House subcommittee to consider "Clergy Wedding Only" bill on Wednesday

March 13, 2016

Contact:  Chris Sanders, (615) 390-5252,

Nashville, TN--The Tennessee General Assembly's House Civil Justice Subcommittee is set to consider HB2379 on Wednesday at 3:00.  The bill by Rep. Micah VanHuss limits the persons who may solemnize marriage to ministers, pastors, rabbis, priests, and other spiritual leaders and removes all existing authorization for public officials in official capacity to solemnize marriage.

"Sadly some legislators are taking their opposition to the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges marriage ruling to the extreme," noted TEP executive director Chris Sanders. "This bill would actually have the effect of making it harder for different-sex couples to get married.  Many couples are not religious or one prospective spouse may not be.  Many couples are of different religions and may not wish to show preference to one of their faith traditions by picking a member of the clergy.  From a practical and a constitutional point of view, the bill is a disaster."

More than 400 people have expressed opposition to the bill so far at this link: .


Donate Volunteer Find an Event