A religious counseling law? What’s next?

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“This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.”

OK. I have a question. What on earth is going on in Tennessee? Seriously.

I just reread an article about the so-called “religious counseling bill” recently inked by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. In fact I’ve read it a few times. It still doesn’t make any sense.

Oh, wait a second. Let me clarify. The story is fine. It’s Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 — or more accurately, the new law, that blows my mind.

Under the new rule: “No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”

Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Really? Is this necessary?

Proponents say it is. According to the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) the state mandates that “all licensed professional counselors comply with the code of ethics issued by the American Counseling Association (ACA).” As it now stands, the code bars such counselors from referring a client based on the counselor’s “personally held values.” To make matters worse, FACT says, counselors can be disciplined if they don’t play by the rules.

“This is an important bill to safeguard a counselor or therapist’s religious beliefs and moral convictions,” FACT maintains. “It protects the right of conscience of the counselor but also allows the clients to receive treatment from someone who is better suited to treat them.”

On the other hand, those against the new law says it encourages discrimination against the LGBT community.

Chris O’Rear, the president of the Tennessee Association of Pastoral Therapists, expressed his own concern about it in a story in The Christian Times. “I’m not supportive of the bill as it is, but I don’t understand the need for it either. I don’t know what to degree this is actually a problem or whether certain people just want it to be a problem.”

In a statement issued after he signed the bill, Haslam admitted that he also had some concerns. Two of the most significant are addressed in the bill, he added.

“There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others,” he said. “Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”

Speaking From Personal Experience

This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.

Book Cover

Years ago, it was Adam’s therapist, not Adam himself, who told me he self-identified as a woman. At the time, I resented the fact that my husband lacked the intestinal fortitude to tell me himself. I hated the fact that I had to hear the truth from a stranger. To be brutally honest about it, it was horrible.

But it’s not all about me. Looking back, I am happy that Adam had help and support during an incredibly difficult time. I am glad he could turn to a qualified professional. I shudder to think about what might have happened if he never found her. I also hate to think about what could have happened if he received sub-par treatment or bad advice from someone who felt “forced” to take his case.

Luckily our story had a (somewhat) happy ending. Sadly, that’s not always true.

The Curt Schilling case: a closer look

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“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
— Evelyn Beatrice Hall/Voltaire
Last week, numerous media outlets, including The Hartford Courant published stories detailing some outrageous comments made by former Major League Baseball player Curt Schilling and the fallout from those comments.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher turned ESPN analyst, lost his job at the sports network after making some disparaging comments on Facebook.
According to published accounts, Schilling re-posted or “shared” an offensive image and caption mocking the transgender community. Then he reportedly added his own opinion saying, “A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.”

Although the material has been deleted, Schilling has stridently defended his right to express his opinion, and lashed out at his critics.

I Do Have A Dog In This Fight

Personally I find Schilling’s comments extremely offensive. I think most people do. But unlike “most people” I do have a dog in the fight. For those of you who don’t know, my ex-husband, Adam, is transgender. He fully transitioned after we divorced, and is now Audrey.

Book Cover

I told my story in my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey. As it turned out, the book is a brutally honest account of how I met, fell in love with and married the man of my dreams, only to find out that he self-identified as a woman — and what happened after I learned the truth.

Quite frankly, a lot of people haven’t appreciated my honesty — probably because it doesn’t jive with their politically correct expectations. They probably wanted to read a happy story about a spouse who instantly accepted her husband’s true identity and acted accordingly.

But that’s not the way it was. Not for me. Finding out that the person I once considered my soul mate had kept such a devastating secret from me wasn’t easy to accept and it wasn’t easy to understand.

So I wasn’t always kind to my ex. In fact, I said some pretty cruel things after we got divorced — and I wrote about it. Granted, I am human and that cruelty was born out of resentment, hurt, anger and a colossal sense of betrayal.  That’s not an excuse or justification for my behavior. There is no excuse.

Having said that, I must also say that I am fiercely protective of Audrey. Before she completed her transition, I told her  that I would never, ever hate her because she is transgender. I never have and I never will. So if anyone has issues with her — or anyone else in the transgender community–  they can come straight through me. And trust me, I am an extremely formidable opponent.

Having said that, I would love to give Schilling a piece of my mind. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not angry at him. If anything, I’m sad. Clearly this is an extremely ignorant individual. Clearly this is someone who lacks the ability to express his opinion in an acceptable manner. Clearly this is someone who has no qualms about engaging in what is easily perceived as hateful rhetoric. Clearly this is someone who is emotionally and intellectually incapable of wrapping his head around the concepts of diversity and tolerance.

Piling On Doesn’t Help

Clearly Schilling is paying a hefty price for all of that. He’s lost his job and his reputation is once again taking a beating at the hands of the “polite police.”

While I’m hardly about to condone his behavior or pretend to understand it, I will say that piling on doesn’t help. Castigating people like Schilling doesn’t do a damn thing to change them. If anything it makes them cling to their beliefs even more. It makes them even more defiant. It causes more resentment, more bitterness and yes — more hate.

Instead of wasting considerable time and energy trying to turn Schilling — and those like him — into pariahs, we would be much better off if we simply viewed these incidents as chances to engage in an open and honest dialogue about the important issues at hand.

Here are some talking points:

  • What is the clinical definition of a transgender person?
  • How does a transgender person differ from a transsexual?
  • How many transgender people are there in the United States?
  • How many transgender people are victims of hate crimes in the United States?
  • What is the suicide rate for transgender people in the United States?
  • Do people really “choose” to self-identify as the other gender or are they literally “trapped in the wrong body since birth?”
  • My son or daughter has a classmate that is biologically male/female but identifies as the other gender and wants to be treated as such. How do I explain this to my child?
  • I know someone who enjoys cross-dressing. Does that mean he or she is transgender?
  • Does everyone who self-identifies as another gender fully transition to that gender?
  • What does “transitioning” entail?
  • What is a “bathroom bill?”
  • What do the laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi really say?
  • How do we best balance the transgender population’s rights to access the public restroom of their choosing with the general public’s right to privacy?
  • How do we combat misconceptions about the transgender community without alienating the general public?
  • How can the transgender community and the general public come together to promote greater tolerance and understanding?

Obviously some of these topics will make people uncomfortable. But then again, making progress is never easy.


To learn more about the issues facing the transgender population visit:

The Human Rights Campaign

GLAAD

The Trevor Project

 

 

Bathroom bill boycotts: getting to the bottom of it

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These days it seems you can’t turn around without hearing about another bathroom bill boycott.

It’s almost as if every rock star on the face of the planet has refused to perform in North Carolina. Several governors have banned all but essential state-funded travel there. Even the corporate world has contributed to the backlash.

Yes, the reaction to North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law — known during the legislative process as House Bill 2 or HB2 — has been swift and harsh. And if a recent Huffington Post article is accurate, the “punishment” meted out by these groups has already proved costly.

Acceptable Protest Or Something Else?

Yet there is a question that remains unasked — at least in the mainstream media, where the politically correct narrative always rules the day. Is all of this economic pressure an acceptable form of protest — or is it something else? Specifically, is it an acceptable form of extortion?

In order to answer the question, we must first find the legal definition of extortion. It is: The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.

So by the strict reading of this definition alone, the answer is “no.” The bathroom bill boycotts cannot be classified as extortion. No property has changed hands — and as far as I can tell, there has been no “wrongful use of actual threatened force, violence or fear…”

However, an explanation of the term on thefreedictionary.com also includes the following: Other types of threats sufficient to constitute extortion include those to harm the victim’s business… Many statutes also provide that any threat to harm another person in his or her career or reputation is extortion.

Depending on how you look at it, that either muddies the waters or clarifies things a lot. We know the bathroom bill boycotts are designed to deprive North Carolina and its individual municipalities of income. One could also argue that they are designed to damage or inflict further damage on the state’s reputation. Although they are not directly targeted, North Carolina businesses are also being harmed as a result of the activity.

So based on that, the bathroom bill boycotts are an accepted form of extortion. But of course the politically correct crowd will never admit it.

It Is What It Is

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly discrimination against any individual or any group is unacceptable. Clearly hate and ignorance are unacceptable. Clearly people should stand up for groups that are unfairly treated.

So if you want to engage in civil disobedience, fine. If you want to organize a rally, great. If you want to start a petition, fine. If you want to write to the governor, that’s fine, too. If you usually vacation in North Carolina and you are so upset by the anti-LGBT law that you literally don’t want to go there, awesome. Cancel your reservations and go somewhere else.

If you happen to be an entertainer or a corporate mogul or a politician and you want to engage in glorified extortion, that’s your decision. Just don’t call it a bathroom bill boycott.

Mississippi House Bill 1523: you be the judge

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Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

I would have posted this sooner, but I’ve been sort of busy. In fact, I just finished reading Mississippi House Bill 1523 — all 16 pages of it.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, the bill is also known as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant just gave it his stamp of approval, meaning the new law will take effect this summer.

As written, the law both prohibits discrimination against people with deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions and allows them to discriminate against other groups based on those same beliefs and convictions.

As you can imagine, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD have had plenty to say about the issue. You can read their take on it here.

In black and white

Of course, their comments are based solely on their interpretation of the law. For those of you who want to form your own conclusions, I’ve included some relevant text from a copy of the bill reviewed by state legislators below.

In pertinent part, it says:

  • “Laws and government actions that protect the free exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage and human sexuality will encourage private citizens and institutions to demonstrate tolerance for those beliefs and convictions and therefore contribute to a more respectful, diverse and peaceful society…”
  • “…it is possible for the government to recognize same-sex marriage without forcing persons with sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions to conform.”
  • “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at birth.”

But wait, there’s more…

The law bars the state government from taking action against anyone who, on the basis of their moral convictions or religious beliefs:

  • Refuses to perform surgery or provide any other treatment commonly administered to aid in a transgender individual’s transition.
  • Creates policy addressing a number of issues including but not limited to access to bathrooms, locker rooms and similar facilities.
  • Refuses to provide services associated with the celebration of certain marriages.

It also prohibits the state from punishing religious organizations or members of such organizations who, on the basis of strictly held religious or moral beliefs refuse to:

  • Preside at or authorize certain marriages.
  • Allow marriages to be held on their property.
  • Provide services for certain marriages.

Finally, the law allows state employees who are authorized to issue marriage licenses to request permission to recuse themselves in instances contradictory to their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The same stipulation applies to state employees who are authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

Think about it

Clearly this is a highly controversial and emotionally charged issue. Those of you who know me personally or who have been following this blog for any length of time know that I have strong feelings about it. After all, laws like this directly affect someone who I once loved and will always care for.

But the bottom line is that when it comes to issues like this, there are always two sides to every story. And there are never any easy answers. So I will leave it at that. For now.

 

 

The folly of forced tolerance: analyzing the fallout from HB2

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The pressure on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory shows no signs of letting up. If anything, it’s growing.

Since HB2, which prevents municipalities in the state from creating their own rules to protect members of LGBT community, became law last week, McCrory has faced considerable corporate and public backlash. The ACLU also jumped into the fray by filing a lawsuit in response to the new law earlier this week.

Now Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has piled on by prohibiting publicly funded travel to the Tar Heel State.

“This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina,” Malloy said in a Hartford Courant story published yesterday. Essentially, the law puts everyone who goes there at risk, as well as those who live there, Malloy added.

According to published reports, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also taken steps to prevent “all nonessential, publicly funded travel” to North Carolina.

Yesterday, McCrory indicated that he’s had enough and fought back by calling his critics a bunch of hypocrites. If you haven’t already, you can read exactly what he had to say  in Politico by clicking the link in the preceding paragraph.

Sad But True

No one is disputing that it is the government’s job to protect vulnerable citizens. Sadly, no one can deny that we need tough laws to combat hate crimes and other heinous behavior that has no place in a civilized society.

From what I’ve read — and trust me, I’ve read a lot over the last week or so — I don’t think McCrory is denying any of that, either. It seems to me that the issue at the heart of the matter is not whom to protect, but how to protect everyone. What can be done — or more importantly — what should be done to balance LGBT rights with the general public’s rights?

Wrong Answer

Clearly North Carolina lawmakers came up with an imperfect solution — and McCrory didn’t do himself any favors by signing such a flawed bill into law.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

As far as I am concerned, the state has every right to regulate what transpires in its own facilities. So if the state wants to pass laws prohibiting transgender individuals from using restrooms that match their gender identities in state-owned buildings, so be it. If the state wants to pass laws calling for the creation of “gender neutral” restrooms in state-owned buildings, fine.

But allowing the state to prohibit individual municipalities from creating and enforcing their own rules regarding who can use which bathrooms is ridiculous.

If North Carolina communities are even remotely like those that I covered as a government reporter in New York, Connecticut and Virginia, each one has a town council, a city council or a similar governing body. Among other things that governing body, working with the mayor or town manager,  and municipal attorney is tasked with creating the rules and regulations (ordinances) for that community. Whenever a new rule is proposed, there is a series of public discussions. During those discussions — usually held at regularly scheduled meetings or special hearings — residents  can share their comments, concerns and opinions. Representatives from other groups that could potentially be impacted by the new rules — can also speak during that time.

In other words, it is an incredibly comprehensive process where everyone has an opportunity to have their say before the governing body votes on the matter. And that’s exactly as it should be.

A Losing Battle?

Figuring out how to balance the rights of the LGBT community with those of the general public is a dilemma that local and state lawmakers across the country have already grappled with, and it is one that more will face as the push for LGBT rights continues.

Figuring out how to put an end to the ignorance and hate that plagues so much of this country is another matter altogether. The only way to start is to encourage an open, honest and objective dialogue. That means taking emotion out of the equation. And therein lies the problem. Human beings are inherently emotional animals. Hate is an incredibly powerful emotion. So is fear.

So our options are limited. But I firmly believe the following:

  • We can and should continue to put laws on the books to discourage hateful people from acting on their feelings.
  • We can and should continue to ensure that harsh penalties are in place for those who do.
  • We can and should create and fund programs that promote understanding, compassion and tolerance.
  • We can and should instill those values in our children.
  • Instead of focusing on our similarities, we can and should learn to respect each others’ differences — even if we don’t understand them.
  • We can and should lead by example.

Regretfully I also believe that at the end of the day, we can’t morally or legally force anyone to exercise tolerance, compassion or understanding if they lack the basic desire or ability to do so.

And as far as I’m concerned, to think otherwise is sheer folly.

 

Uproar over HB2 hits close to home

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I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband in years. But at times like this — when controversy erupts over LGBT rights — I can’t help but think of him. Or should I say, her?

Long Before There Was Chaz or Caitlyn…

For those of you who don’t know, my ex-husband, Adam, is transgender. So he’s Audrey now. Or more accurately, she’s Audrey now.

I learned the truth about the person I once considered my best friend and soul mate shortly after our second wedding anniversary. By that time we had been together for the better part of 10 years. And no. Until that point I never had a clue.

Book Cover

Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that the person I planned to have children and grow old with would have such a devastating, heartbreaking secret. As Adam and I exchanged vows during our nationally televised, fairy-tale wedding at the Hampton Classic Horse Show, I had no reason whatsoever to think we would be divorced less than three years later.

That’s exactly what happened, though.

After we agreed to go our separate ways, Adam moved to another part of the country where he continued his transition. Eventually he went overseas to have surgery to complete the process. When he returned, he was no longer the man I married.

Eventually I rebuilt my own life. I moved to Virginia, where I spent more than eight years working at what had once been one of the best suburban newspapers in the state. It was during that time that I also decided to share my story in my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey.

I want to be crystal clear about that. I wrote my book in order to tell my story. Not Audrey’s story. Mine.

That being stated, I also had a lot of unanswered questions. I told Audrey as much while I was writing the book. I asked if I could interview her — if she wanted to share her perspective. She refused.

So Much for That

That was years ago and I haven’t spoken to her since. Quite frankly, there’s nothing left to say.

So I have no idea what she thinks about North Carolina House Bill 2 and the backlash that it has triggered.

To be honest, I am not all that sure what I think about the issue, either.

On the surface it seems simple. No one should be fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender people should be allowed to use restrooms matching their gender identity, individual communities should be allowed to pass laws that allow them to do so, and the state should not be able to enact legislation that bars municipalities from doing so.

But of course, it’s not that simple. It never is.


For more information about HB2, see:

ACLU Sues Over Controversial Transgender Bathroom Law

N.C. governor signs bill repealing Charlotte transgender bathroom law

Tech Giants Join Rebuke of Law Blocking LGBT Rights