[Audio] Murray State Psychology Professor Says Bathroom Bills "Concerning"
The so-called "bathroom bill" circulating state governments across the country, namely North Carolina, restricts transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their biological sex. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has recently questioned the need for a special legislative session called by fellow Republican lawmakers over President Obama's directive where public schools must allow students to use facilities consistent with their identity. On Sounds Good, Tracy Ross speaks with Murray State University psychology professor Dr. Michael Bordieri about these hot-button issues, which he calls "concerning."
During the General Assembly, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill to allow counselors to refuse seeing patients based on religious views. Dr. Bordieri says this conversation has become endemic across society and is unique in that it is a topic where psychological science has something to say about it. He says this hits especially close to home given that legislators are passing laws that put into question the practice of trained counselors and how they should behave as people who can help.
At it's heart, providing mental healthcare is something Bordieri sees should be accessible for everyone. There are already disparities in who seeks out help and who sticks with treatment, he says. He takes issue with the idea of empowering counselors to reject or turn away clients in need because one aspect of their identity might not be congruent with our own.
"We live in a diverse world," he says, adding that values may almost always be different than the people he works with and tries to help. He says those value differences don't prevent him from working to help that person. "The idea now that we're going to allow or to provide a blanket statement that I can turn others away because they're not like me or believe in things I disagree with is concerning."
It's not a matter of ignoring differences, Bordieri says, but to "blanketly refuse" to see people based on what they believe is concerning and perpetuates stereotypes and discrimination against the LGBT community. He says research suggests that LGBT individuals, especially adolescents, face a high degree of victimization, bullying and exposure to transphobic or homophobic attitudes or actions. He adds that in these communities there is an increased risk in psychological difficulties and suicide rates.
Bordieri says the first thing to do is raise awareness. He advises to stop allowing one cultural identity to supersede or infringe on others. It's the type of attitude that can lead to psychological difficulties or victimization, an increased risk of being a part of a hate crime or act, or suicide attempts, he says. Studies suggest adolescents who identify as lesbian, bisexual or gay are twice as likely to attempt suicide, he says. While data is more limited on transgender individuals, up to one in four have contemplated suicide or gone through an attempted suicide due to exposure to discrimination, he says.
"We have to recognize that there's a human cost to this and that when we're fighting for what we believe is right there's a consequence in making statements, that we might be sending messages, especially the young people among us that who they are and who they identify as is somehow invalid or wrong and that's just a really dangerous thing," Bordieri says.
There may not always be the case where it's appropriate to treat someone. Bordieri says there may be times, leaving sexual and cultural identity behind, where for example he had a loved one he felt deeply about who was a victim of a crime... and a client came in who was the perpetrator of a similar crime... where his personal experience may make him not the most effective in helping. He says in his training, there has always been a precedent of whether it's referrals or looking for support making sure the best interest of the client is at heart. He asks: 'Is the bill in Tennessee really in the interest of the client or do they serve a different agenda? Is the bill one that creates barriers as opposed to trying to increase equity and access to services?'