Lambda Legal Weighs in on Federal Lawsuit Brought by Augusta State Counseling Student

"When Georgia's LGBTQ youth are being bullied or thinking about committing suicide, we want them to be speaking with trained counselors who will help not harm them."

Date

Date: 
12/01/2010
Gregory R. Nevins

"It is unethical and dangerous for a counselor to not respect the dignity and promote the welfare of her LGBTQ clients."

(Atlanta, GA December 1, 2010) - Yesterday, in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Georgia Safe Schools Coalition (GSCC) in opposition to a graduate student's legal claim against Augusta State University. Jennifer Keeton, a graduate student in counseling at the school, claims her first amendment rights were violated when the school required her to complete a remediation program to better understand LGBT issues after Ms. Keeton expressed intent to engage in discriminatory and harmful professional practices as a school counselor.

"It is unethical and dangerous for a counselor to not respect the dignity and promote the welfare of her LGBTQ clients," said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta. "When Georgia's LGBTQ youth are being bullied or thinking about committing suicide, we want them to be speaking with trained counselors who will help not harm them."

According to affidavits filed in the case, Jennifer Keeton repeatedly expressed a desire to avoid LGBTQ students altogether or to subject them to dangerous conversion therapy, and subsequently refused to comply with the remediation program required by the University. The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics clearly proscribes conduct harmful to patients, imposition of the counselors' views on patients, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The faculty presented Keeton with a remediation plan whereby Ms. Keeton would have greater exposure to the LGBT community and would read peer-reviewed articles regarding improving counseling effectiveness for LGBTQ populations; she refused to take these steps. In July 2010, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), an antigay legal organization, filed a lawsuit on Keeton's behalf claiming that her First Amendment rights were violated. In August, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia ruled that the school did not violate the student's constitutional rights and that the remediation plan was reasonable, but Keeton and ADF appealed.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, filed yesterday on behalf of PFLAG and GSSC, Lambda Legal emphasized the important role of counselors in preventing harm to LGTBQ youth. As part of their missions to help LGBTQ youth feel safe in schools, PFLAG and GSSC explained to the court how essential it is that school counselors honor their professional duty to promote the well-being of all students, especially those youth who are being bullied. LGBT students, compared to any other minority group, are more likely to feel unsafe in school and school counselors can profoundly affect an LGTBTQ youth's mental health.

Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney.

The case is Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley.

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Contact Info

Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; jadams@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.