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Michigan’s Julea Ward “Freedom Of Conscience” Act Is Anything But

21 Jun

I’m gearing up to move across the country and don’t have a ton of time to write, but this is too ridiculous and awful not to mention. Michigan’s House recently passed HB 5040, which allows students in counseling, social work, and psychology programs to refuse to serve clients with ” goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief.” 

According to Think Progress, Julea Ward “sued Eastern Michigan University after she was kicked out of her counseling graduate program — she refused to affirm a client’s gay orientation because it ‘goes against what the Bible says.’ A federal district court judge dismissed her suit, ruling that the university ‘had a right and duty’ to enforce the professional ethic rules that dictate its counseling accreditation… The 11th Circuit similarly ruled against Jennifer Keeton, who experienced a similar situation at Augusta State University in Georgia, stating that ‘counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.’  By advancing this legislation, Michigan lawmakers are essentially attempting to circumvent — if not dictate — counseling ethical standards.”

So what’s the big deal? How can a student counselor be expected to work with a client who is engaged in behavior he or she personally finds immoral? Shouldn’t the counselor’s values matter as much as the values of her or his client?

The answer is a definitive no. As noted by the 11th Circuit Court, counselors do not impose their moral and religious values on clients. By definition. End of story. Sure, there are some basic societal moral values we’re expressly charged to uphold – if a client tells me he’s abusing his children, I get to report that – but I don’t get to force my personal moral beliefs down my clients’ throats. Counselors choose to work in a profession in which they will be expected to help people whose background, behavior, and beliefs differ from their own on a daily basis. It’s the nature of the job. I wouldn’t become a veterinarian if I were opposed to working with animals, and I wouldn’t become a psychologist or professional counselor if I were opposed to working with people with backgrounds different than my own. There are plenty of career paths available to individuals who want to limit their helping services to heterosexuals and those who closely share their beliefs: religious counselor (for some institutions) and priest/minister (for some institutions) come to mind. (So does “typical conservative Republican lawmaker” if I’m being snarky.) The counseling programs attended by Julea Ward and Jennifer Keeton were nonreligious programs at secular institutions. Professional counseling is a secular job for individuals who are willing to honor its established code of ethics, and who are willing to do their best to avoid abusing the power they are entrusted with in the room.

Our ethical code (and by ethical code I’m talking about the one my classmates and I operate under, the APA Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct, although all ethical codes for counselors look more or less the same) specifically states the following:

Psychologists are aware of cultural, individual, and role differences, including those due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.

Refusing to provide services to a person because of his or her sexual orientation is a discriminatory practice. The LGBT population is a minority population in the same way that Latino populations, African American populations, Jewish populations, and disabled populations are minority populations. A student in counseling would never be allowed to refuse to see a client because he was Black or Jewish or because she used a wheelchair. Sexual orientation is no different. Universities with programs in counseling and related fields must be allowed to uphold professional standards if we are to have a competent, ethical next generation of helping professionals.

But HB 5040 ensures that LGBT clients get services, right? Isn’t there a clause saying that clients must be referred to someone else who can provide them with the services they need?

That clause is present. And it’s true that psychologists are urged to consult on or refer clients with whom they feel they cannot competently work, and this could include a client with whom a therapist has difficulty empathizing for personal reasons. But – and this is a big but – you’re supposed to try to become competent. To unilaterally reject working with clients of a certain minority group without attempting to address the underlying personal bias present is to knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices, practices our ethical code expressly forbids.

And frankly, refusing to work with LGBT clients (or clients in any minority group) directly opposes the ultimate goal of counseling: to help people recover from mental health problems. According to the APA, “Antigay victimization and discrimination have been associated with mental health problems and psychological distress (Cochran, Sullivan, & Mays, 2003; Gilman et al., 2001; Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999; Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 1995; Ross, 1990; Rostosky, Riggle, Horne, & Miller, 2009).” Discriminating against LGBT clients perpetuates psychological problems. Transferring a client because of prejudice against his or her sexual orientation can convey extremely negative messages no matter how delicately the transfer is handled… and it’s a rare counseling student who has mastered “delicate” in the first place.

APA’s Code of Conduct states that “psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live… Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering.” Bottom line: HB 5040 is designed to make it easier for psychologists and other counseling professionals to promote human suffering. Here’s hoping Michigan rejects it as the crappy piece of legislation it is.


Feminist Win of the Week: Privilege and MMORPGs

20 May

John Scalzi has a nice piece on heterosexual white male privilege over at Whatever – check it out here. His follow-up article is worth a read, too. I think his massive MMORPG role playing game analogy is an accessible one.



Amendment One and My Extinction Burst Theory

9 May

North Carolina passed Amendment One yesterday, and I’m extremely disappointed with my future home state. But I also think this piece of discriminatory legislation is the beginning of the end. As ThinkProgress points out, equality momentum is at a new high. Obama (finally) endorsed marriage equality today. And public support for same-sex marriage is growing.

My theory is that the slew of discriminatory legislative efforts we have seen of late – not just those targeting same-sex couples, but also those targeting women – represent an extinction burst.

Let’s say you’ve got a kid who has learned that if he screams in the supermarket, Mom will buy him a candy bar to keep him quiet. He likes candy bars, so he screams every time he and Mom go to the store. Mom gets extremely tired of this, orders the first season of Super Nanny, and learns that to put an end to the screaming, she’s going to have to stop inadvertently reinforcing it with candy. The next time she and kiddo go to the store, he starts screaming as usual. But this time Mom doesn’t get him a candy bar. He is confused. He is upset. This behavior has always worked before. Maybe he’s just not screaming loud enough. He screams louder, but nothing happens. He wants that candy bar and is getting frantic now, so he throws in some flailing too. Mom doesn’t give in. The same thing happens the next few times he and Mom go to the store. Eventually the screaming stops.

This is an example of an extinction burst – an escalation in undesired behavior in response to that behavior no longer producing the desired reward. I think anti-feminist, anti-LGBT legislators are in the same boat as our hypothetical screaming kid. This kind of legislation used to produce the “reward” of smoothly maintaining the status quo, ensuring the continued power of male heterosexual leaders, and providing comfort to those with prejudicial fears. But we live in a country that is increasingly less willing to provide those rewards without a fight, and legislators are upset and screaming. Our job is to keep withholding that candy bar, and to continue fighting, writing, talking, and voting with the knowledge that we’re slowly but surely ushering a discriminatory past to extinction.

Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education is “Evidence-Based.” Also, Unicorns Are Real

2 May

The Department of Health and Human Services recently released an updated list of “evidence-based” programs for teen pregnancy prevention. Since we have apparently been plopped into an alternate universe where “evidence-based” means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like, the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program somehow made the list, despite a glaring lack of support in peer-reviewed research literature.

No surprise about the lack of effectiveness. A few choice quotes from the Heritage Keepers Student Manual, pulled from RH Reality Check’s piece on the curriculum:

  • “Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated… This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)
  • Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)
  • “Cohabitation (when two people live together before marriage) is not like marriage! [Heritage Keepers, p. 30] When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)
  • “One reason may be that when people bond closely through sexual activity, then break up and bond with someone else, and then someone else, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain a lasting bond.” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, p. 56)
  • Young men are asked to envision their wedding day: “The doors swing open and there stands your bride in her white dress…This is the woman you have waited for (remained abstinent for) who has waited for you…This woman loves you and trusts you with all that she is and all that she has. You want to be strong, respectful and courageous for her. With all your heart, you want to protect her, and by waiting (sexually) you have.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 59)
  • Young women are asked to envision their wedding day: “Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…” When the bride takes her father’s arm: “Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you… You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 49)

Gross, gross, gross, gross. What was the Obama administration thinking? This program drips with dated gender attitudes, unsubstantiated (and often blatantly false) claims about the dangers of premarital sex, heterosexism, and slut-shaming. Even if Heritage Keepers somehow manages to produce scientific support of the caliber expected for other programs on the “evidence based” list (very unlikely), its deeply problematic premise and language choices make it an unacceptable choice for schools or any other public sphere. Punching someone in the mouth may be an effective way to remove teeth, but dentists don’t use it in practice because it’s damaging, unethical, and a generally crappy thing to do. Again, I doubt Heritage Keepers will ever prove its effectiveness in peer-reviewed literature, but regardless of research outcome, I sincerely hope the Department of Health and Human Services recognizes its error and pulls its endorsement for a program that should never have received serious consideration in the first place.

Speaking of Paula Deen… Feminist Win of the Week

29 Jan

I was kind of appalled by Josh Ozersky’s piece in this week’s Time titled “Grease Under Fire: Paula Deen parlays just deserts [sic] into a sweet deal.” And not just by the uncharacteristic typo in the title. (Just deserts?) A few choice quotes (emphasis mine):

It’s probably safe to say that few of her viewers were surprised when down-home-cooking doyenne Paula Deen announced on Jan. 17 that she has Type 2 diabetes.”

The woman just didn’t care; she was going to deep-fry some Twinkies, and that was the end of it. The result, just as our mothers told us, was predictable. ‘Paula Deen was going to have some kind of health problem,’ says New York City chef Franklin Becker… ‘It might not have been diabetes, but it would have been something. If you cook that way, if you eat that way, you’re going to get issues.‘”

“The truth is that Deen has some real questions to answer, and she hasn’t done a good job so far. It’s one thing to be diagnosed with diabetes after you’ve built a career promoting bacon-wrapped mac and cheese and other I-dare-you dishes that contribute to obesity, a risk factor for developing the disease. But Al Roker, speaking for tortured dieters everywhere, asked her on the Today show why she took so long to tell people the news…”

“Paula Deen, after cooking all the wrong things so well and for so long, doesn’t seem to feel any guilt at all.”

Notice any themes? I should note that Ozersky doesn’t paint Deen entirely as a demon, and he admits a grudging respect for what he describes as Deen’s “freewheeling indifference to health concerns.” The issue of Time in which this article appeared also included a quote from chef Anthony Bourdain in the Briefing section: “‘When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you’ve got Type 2 diabetes… It’s in bad taste.'”

Credit: Time

Ozersky’s article – and the implications of Bourdain’s quote – really bother me. The language is damning and weight-shaming, and it conveys a poor understanding of how Type 2 diabetes works. The tone is unattractively gleeful – how funny is it that this woman got diabetes? – and the utter lack of compassion makes me cringe. The self-righteous grousing about Deen’s unwillingness to immediately disclose her diabetes diagnosis is also inexplicable to me. Does Bourdain have a blog somewhere in which he lists all of his health problems? Couldn’t find it, but I guess it must be out there somewhere. There’s also an implicit assumption that Deen eats exactly as she cooks on TV. Do you honestly think this woman has time to make homemade fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits every night? Do you know how long that stuff takes to make? I joked about eating peanut butter pie at Paula’s house in my last post, but I am fully aware that she’s a celebrity with a TV show, guest judging gigs, book deals, a magazine, speaking engagements, and a business empire. I doubt she spends a ton of time at home, much less making gravy from scratch when off air.

I could go on, but I think Susan over at Persephone Mag does a much better job than I could of addressing the problems inherent to the current media dialogue around Paula Deen’s illness. Check out her excellent takedown here:

If that doesn’t constitute a feminist win of the week, I don’t know what does.

Feminist Win of the Week: The Where Do You Stand? Campaign

16 Jan

I get really, really sick of sexual assault prevention campaigns that are targeted toward women. My undergraduate residence hall required me to participate in a certain number of educational events each year, and one of the annual events offered was always a women’s “rape prevention” seminar led by our university’s chief of police. The seminar focused on what we ladies were supposed to be doing to protect ourselves: keeping our keys between our knuckles when we walked around at night, keeping our drinks with us at ALL TIMES when at bars or parties to avoid potential roofies, wearing modest clothing, and carrying a rape whistle. Complimentary rape whistles were passed around, we applauded politely, and we left  with the comforting knowledge that we were now immune to rape.

Not. Women’s “rape prevention” is an idiotic, dangerous concept that perpetuates victim-blaming, makes women (and men) less likely to speak up after being sexually assaulted, and impedes prosecution of rapists. The vast majority of sexual assaults on women are not stranger rapes; they’re committed by men that women know and trust. Baggy clothes and a hand over your drink aren’t going to do you a lick of good if a rapist is already inside your house, sitting in his usual place on your couch. As a society, we need to spend less time and resources teaching potential victims how to “avoid” rape, and more time and resources teaching men how to recognize sexual assault and how to prevent it. Most men who commit sexual assault don’t consider themselves rapists afterward (check out the stats here); a “rapist” is someone who roofies drinks or attacks women in dark alleys, not someone who decides that a woman is radiating nonverbal come-hither signs and is playing hard-to-get by saying no. Men live in a media culture permeated with the idea that guys are supposed to take the lead when it comes to sex and that a woman’s “no” is most likely an eventual “yes.” I don’t know why we continue to be surprised by the depressingly high sexual assault rates in our country when we do so little to teach men how to appropriately initiate and respond in sexual situations and help their friends do the same.

That’s why I’m really loving the new Where Do You Stand? ad campaign over at, which urges men to recognize and stop behaviors associated with sexual assault. These posters model specific bystander interventions that inform young men what they can do, implicitly convey what types of behaviors are unacceptable, and portray the modeled interventions as actions fit for men with strength, self-confidence, and integrity. This isn’t the first ad campaign Men Can Stop Rape has produced, but it’s by far my favorite. Men Can Stop Rape also offers trainings and action guides for college campuses interested in expanding on the materials in a systemic way. Props to an excellent organization for a much-needed campaign. I would love to see these posters plastered all over my town.

Feminist Win of the Week: “Binge Drinking, Straw Man Arguments, and Rape Prevention”

22 Dec

Check out this great piece by Feministing’s Zerlina on victim-blaming and her own experiences with rape:

Zerlina does an especially nice job of addressing the problems inherent to the concept of “rape prevention.” Definitely worth a read.

Worth Checking Out: World Pulse

7 Dec

I was recently introduced to World Pulse ( by a friend who has been working through the organization to improve women’s access to education and healthcare in her hometown in rural Uganda. People, World Pulse is cool. It’s a self-described worldwide media and connection network devoted to helping women find a global voice. WP offers training and resources to grassroots women journalists and provides online and printed forums for their stories. Women from over 185 countries use PulseWire, an interactive community resource, to connect with other women, find jobs and resources, and start new programs and businesses. The World Pulse Action Center (, described as a “global bulletin board,” lists requests for volunteers, mentors, tutors, investments, and donated items or services. If you’d like a way to generate significant positive change for women all over the world  but don’t have the funds to make significant donations, the Action Center provides plenty of meaningful opportunities to share your talents or time without making financial commitments (although those are welcome too). I’m inspired by World Pulse and the women who make their voices heard on its forums, and if you take the time to check it out, I bet you’ll be inspired too.

Feminist Win of the Week: Response to “Put Me in Charge”

22 Nov

A friend in my program recently got me hooked on Persephone Magazine (, and I’ve been consistently impressed with the blog’s fresh take on feminist issues, politics, entertainment, and everything in between. Yesterday, contributor Malyksha wrote a fantastic response to an incredibly small-minded, arrogant, misguided piece of writing (to put it mildly) that has been circulating the internet lately. Check out her post here:


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