Counseling Student Sues For Right to Disregard Science, Enforce Homophobia

Jennifer Keeton, a counseling student Augusta State University, has sued the university after being asked to complete a remediation program designed to make her more tolerant of the LGBT community, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Keeton has interpreted the university’s action as being asked to alter her religious beliefs (she is a devout Christian). But the school says they are concerned that she will be unable to comply with the standards of the profession, which hold that homosexuality is not a choice and is not something that needs to be counseled.

In a statement, one of Keeton’s lawyers said:

“A public-university student shouldn’t be threatened with expulsion for being Christian and refusing to publicly renounce her faith, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform.”

The basis of all this is the American Psychiatric Association’s guidelines on working with gay patients. The queer community has come a long way since the days when the  classified homosexuality as a mental illness. That all changed in 1973 when the association revised the DSM entry on sexual deviance. Please listen to the This American Life episode called “81 Words,” which has the entire fascinating backstory on how that change happened.

Anyway, back to Jennifer Keeton. The school became aware of her views that homosexuality is a choice and people are born with a definite gender, and she’s been heard to advocate gay conversion therapy.

She’s arguing that these requirements from the school have violated her first amendment rights to freedom of religion. Here’s Keeton talking about her sitch:

Do you think maybe she’s been coached by a lawyer? I’m just saying it’s possible.

It would seem to depend on how the college worded their requests and on what the remediation would entail. Sounds like the university is trying to expand her horizons by making her be near gay people and is trying to ensure that her views won’t temper her counseling. Here’s their plan for her:

The lawsuit says Augusta State faculty members developed a remediation plan specifically for Ms. Keeton and told her she would be expelled from the College of Education’s counselor-education program if she did not fulfill its requirements. The plan calls on Ms. Keeton to attend workshops on serving diverse populations, read articles on counseling gay, lesbian, and bisexual and transgendered people, and write reports to an adviser summarizing what she has learned. It also instructs her to work to increase her exposure to, and interaction with, gay populations, and suggests that she attend the local gay-pride parade. Ms. Keeton has refused to comply.

She has every right to be a Christian, but a school who educated counselors has a responsibility to their future patients. Gay conversion therapy is not only against APA guidelines, it has also been found to be psychologically harmful to patients. What do you guys think? Did the school take it too far, or are they just being responsible educators?

Here’s a hint of how this might go: — this Monday, a judge upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Eastern Michigan University in Ypsitucky, Michigan, by a student who got kicked out of her school counseling grad program for the same reason — she refused to affirm homosexual behavior while serving clients, citing her religious beliefs:

In an order granting summary judgment to the university on Monday, Judge George Caram Steeh of the U.S. District Court in Detroit held that the university’s requirement that the student be willing to serve people who are homosexual was reasonable, and did not amount to an infringement of the Christian student’s constitutional rights to free speech and free expression of religion.

The university “had a right and duty to enforce compliance” with professional ethics rules barring counselors from being intolerant or engaging in discrimination, and no reasonable person could conclude that a counseling program’s requirement that students comply with such rules “conveys a message endorsing or disapproving of religion,” Judge Steeh wrote.

The Alliance Defense Fund plans to appeal the decision. Good luck!

Also, is now taking bets on how the lawsuit will pan out, if you’re interested.

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Sarah lives in Chicago with her partner and her big white Great Dane. She is a lawyer by day and a beer brewer/bread baker/knitter by night. She & her partner are currently learning how to grow their own food, and eventually they hope to move to a small farm outside the city. In 2009-2010, before jetting off to law school, Sarah was Autostraddle's Managing Editor.

Sarah has written 127 articles for us.


  1. Anyone refusing to live up to the required standards of their chosen profession should not be allowed to be a part of that profession.

    No matter what god tells them.

  2. I think ASU hit the nail on the head by sending her to queer events. No one’s asking her to compromise her own personal values–they’re asking her to develop the objectivity necessary to be an effective counselor.

    Ughhh. She is everything I loathe about the South personified. Why does this nonsense continues to happen in my backyard? If I have to make one more protest sign this year, I’m suing someone for the cost of Sharpies and posterboard.

  3. People aren’t “born” gay.

    They become attracted to that behavior, and feel the gay lifestlye provided advantages for them.

    It is inspiring that Jennifer Keeton has the character to “stand alone” against people trying to force her to believe something that is obviously untrue. The one thing that America needs right now more than anything else is couselors who can help the self-identified “gay” person find their way back to being normal. This is the path that will bring them to true happiness. Trying to live a lie, even though it’s currently popular, will torment a person in their soul. It’s time for the self-identified “gay” persons to “come out of the closet” and realize who they really are: male or female, as they were born.

    NO MATTER HOW LOUD YOU SCREAM, you weren’t born gay. Being gay is a behavior that you have currently choses.

    I don’t dislike self-identified gay persons. I have a lot of them as friends. I do feel sorry for themselves. Self-deception is a sad thing.

    • You seriously have a lot of gay friends…that’s uh…pretty shocking. I hope your “friends” find someone else to hang out with.

    • Oh yes, all the great advantages of being gay. Such as being allowed to marry, file joint tax returns, not get the shit kicked out of me for holding hands with the person I love….

      Oh wait.

      You sir, are a moron.

    • Oh, and I forgot:

      NO MATTER HOW LOUD YOU SCREAM, you can’t “choose” to be gay

      See, I can do that too!

    • funny how all the homophobes have SO MANY gay friends, and i have um three at the most and one of them is my girlfriend?!

      also if they had training for working w/ the lgbt community as part of the standard curriculum then she couldn’t sue right, because she would have entered the program knowing they were going to ask her to at some point maybe, omg, like stand next to a heathen. i mean gay person.

      • I bet he’s just super super lonely guy. I mean what better way to battle loneliness than to make up your own army of imaginary gay friends. It’s also a good way to support bullshit theories

    • uh, no. you sir are wrong.

      ps. sexuality and gender are two completely different things. you should expand your reading list.

    • I have currently choses to laugh at you pretty hard. You were much-needed amusement at the end of a long day, please don’t hesitate to post drivel again.

    • It is inspiring that Jennifer Keeton has the character to “stand alone” against people trying to force her to believe something that is obviously untrue.

      Um, no. There is nothing “inspiring” about someone hiding behind non-existent Biblical passages in the attempt to acquire a degree for which she is so painfully unqualified.

    • Self-identified? As opposed to communally identified? So if you decide I’m gay is that okay?

    • The only way Gary Yeh could possibly know if someone is born gay or not would be if Gary Yeh is really Gary Gay, now wouldn’t it, genius.

      Don’t worry. It’s totally OK that you’re gay.

    • I am going to pretend this comment never happened and go read the real L word recap so I can remind myself of the many advantages the gay lifestyle has to offer me… that I have currently choses.

    • “It’s time for the self-identified “gay” persons to “come out of the closet” and realize who they really are: male or female, as they were born.”

      That doesn’t even make sense.

    • You know what? I’m female. 100%. And I like having sex with my girlfriend, so shove off, punk.

      Also um dude she hardly stands alone. She’s got a little under half the population of the US on her side…

    • Considering this guy has presumably read so much of the Bible, you’d think he would have a better grasp of basic grammar–you know, like pronoun usage and subject-verb agreement.

      Gary, you should totes go be an English professor, because why would anyone need to adhere to the fundamental tenants of their job when they can just make up their own rules?

  4. Speaking as a prof, and reading between the lines, it REALLY sounds like she has been espousing anti-gay and intolerant attitudes in class discussion, and then justifying them by saying they are her “beliefs”. That comment about “sharing her beliefs in essays” made me cringe, because I know exactly the kind of student who relies on the Bible for “evidence” instead of doing actual research.

    I think the school’s suggestions are pedagogically sound; if she can’t do the academic work (which includes being able to be objective), she shouldn’t get the degree.

    • This is an excellent point. I wonder if maybe some of her fellow students complained about her?

      • they can’t be friends when they get older though, or they’ll be forced to become lesbians

        • Haha, nice comment! :) I just saw the banshee (Elizabeth) screaming it off, and her hair colour even matches Keeton’s so they could be dyke-alikes!

  5. This annoys me. The need to deny facts and research regarding gay people in your chosen professional field is not a Christian belief. Either is being asked to have some understanding about GLBT issues to do a job in which its necessary.

    If her rationalisation for things is because the Bible says so then can she not just stick to that without having to resort to lies and mistruths to make herself feel better about it?

    She can believe that we are all sinners if she wants, that’s her choice, but why does that mean that she HAS to believe that homosexuality can’t occur naturally without choice? Maybe its because that would make God seem mean and her head would explode trying to work around that one when it stops being a bit of doctrine and turns into an actual real life person looking her in the eyes.

    Seriously this drives me nuts. Christianity is not supposed to equal ignorance about gays. To imply that ignorance about gays is actually a core part of Christian beliefs must make Jesus cry more than an episode of the real L word.

  6. A counselor cannot treat a patient for “gay” any more than a doctor can treat a woman for “humors”. “Gay” is not a mental illness, and that is why it is no longer classified as sexual deviance.

    This Keeton woman is mistaken if she believes it is a religious issue. She will have to abide by the parameters set forth in the DSM if she is to be an effective practitioner/earn a living.

    I’m gay for the DSM!!!

    • “I’m gay for the DSM!”

      I suddenly need this to be a shirt that I can give to my psych-working friends

  7. Am I the only one who noticed some serious disdain in the way the reporter said ‘diversity’ and ‘sensitivity’?

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one that noticed that bias in reporting. I got the sense that the woman reporting gave that blonde bimbo a pat on the back for being a Jesus-freak and once again using the bible as an excuse to hate, rather than love like it says over, and over, and over again.

  8. Wow I think you’re right, I just looked at the gay lifestyle one day and saw all the perks like being unequal, mentally and physically abused and a whole array of other great things and said to myself “Hey, look at all advantages of that attractive lifestyle, I think I’ll be that.”

    And no one is telling her that her beliefs are wrong, they’re just telling her that her inability to separate them from her work will make her incapable of doing her job properly in the future.

    ALSO, I still don’t understand the “gay is mighty popular these days” thing. I’m sure nearly the same percentage of people have been homosexuals since the beginning of time. Doesn’t it make sense that it’s more in your face now because there are a.) more humans, which means there are more gays. And b.) it’s more socially accepted and more widely known and understood so there are more people who aren’t terrified to be who they are so it seems like more, when really it’s just out in the open.

    And if there was a way to be “brought to true happiness” by being “normal”. Wouldn’t homosexuality just not exist by now? If we could all be happy if we just gave up how we felt for the same sex, wouldn’t we? And I’m pretty sure that I’m female, I identify as female, I don’t want to change that I’m female, and I’m into females. What does gender identity have to do with ALL homosexuals?

    Alright, that’s all. I’ve gotta get back to deceiving myself.

    Love and rainbows and self identification forevs,

    • Hand in hand with the “gay is mighty popular these days” is the “it’s cool to be gay now so more people are being drawn into that lifestyle because it looks attractive”. My mother tried that on me once. She got a long talk about teen suicide and homophobic bullying.

    • Funny thing is, at 13yrs old I did see Henry Rollins joke about how awesome it would be to be bisexual, and I did say to myself “YES, I think I’ll be that!”. It didn’t occur to me then that there might be a certain reason that this particular “lifestyle” should seem attractive to me.

      The really amazing thing is that, as hard as it is to figure out the more obscure bits of your own brain, these bigots claim to know by default what everyone “really is”.

  9. “Simply put, the university is imposing thought reform.”
    That’s called teaching. ;)

    • I KNOW! that’s what i thought too. why go to school if you don’t want to learn things? don’t answer that. i know a lot of people go to school with a closed mind, but i think the point of getting an education is to OPEN YOUR MIND and learn things and discover things and do some critical thinking and see things from another point of view. learning means sometimes admitting you were wrong.

  10. As someone who is currently working towards being a counselor, this woman offends me. Saying you won’t work with LGBT people is like saying you won’t counsel black people, or Jewish people. It’s discrimination, not religious beliefs. The ACA teaches us to put aside our personal beliefs and be non-judgmental. How does this woman expect to live and work in a multi-cultural society?

    The ACA Code of Ethics makes it clear that you cannot discriminate against any minority group. If she can’t follow the code, she shouldn’t be a counselor. Period.

    Now I’m mad and need distracting. I’m going to go enjoy the “advantages” of gaydom with my girl :)

    • Agreed. Religious belief and her job as a counsellor are separate things. She should therefore comply to their standards, because her religious beliefs are not supposed to come into her counseling work anyway.

      I’m a Psychology student, who is looking to go into Clinical Psychology, and this makes me really angry.

  11. reading the article was like a mindfuck, because everyone seemed really positive in the scientific research disproving her thoughts, which was wicked. But anyway, Her counseling any LGBT person while having those beliefs so firmly grounded in her would be like a person who believes in the creation story (god+7 days=everythaaang) talking unbiasedly about evolution/darwinism. IT DUN WORK.

  12. i understand having beliefs, but, honestly, if a big part of what you’re studying conflicts this much with your beliefs (like sexuality being a big part of psychology,) then you should really not be studying it. you cannot alter that facts that are the foundation of a knowledge you want to master.

    • I know, right? It’s like, I wanted to studying painting, but no one would let me use lead or cadmium paint or turpentine because it’s ‘poisonous’ but like, so what? It’s what the masters used hundreds of years ago and so what if that method made them all sick and crazy, it was the right way to go. You can’t force me to use this modern acrylic paint or turpenoid just because it’s the ‘law’ or healthier or whatever. I firmly believe that lead paint is just more natural and no one can force me to see otherwise.

  13. i haven’t finished this article yet but i just wanted to point out that the ad before the video starts “when your eyes are smiling, you’re smiling.” tyra, like god, is everywhere.

  14. She reminds me of these two girls in my Speech class who gave a presentation against gay marriage as apart of their persuasive essay requirement. My teacher gave them a really hard time after it was over. I then gave my speech on why we should disallow Creationism in public schools. It wasn’t what I wanted to present, but after I found out what they were doing, I wanted to choose a topic that would at least upset them as much as they upset me.

  15. If Ms. Keeton really wants to know what ‘thought reform’ looks like, she should enroll in a bible college next semester.

    As someone who had to go through my senior year of high school talking to a homophobic religious “therapist,” this makes me really upset and I want nothing more than for her to lose, and lose big.

  16. So basically she is saying that the school has no right to tell her that her thoughts on trying to “reform” homosexuals is wrong. However, she has the right to tell homosexuals that they are wrong, and that her “devout christian” treatment is the only way to cover them?

    The lawsuit seems a bit of a paradox if you ask me.

  17. Sooooooo …. there are crazies like this one counselling LGBT youth. No wonder gay teens are something like four times more likely to commit suicide than hetero teens.
    What a flipping joke. Put her on Ellen and watch her squirm.

    I think I’ll study (?) to be a minister … and not believe in God.

  18. My heart says that preventing this would-be counsellor from having any contact with confused kids, or edugayting her until she’s shitting rainbows, is the right thing to do.

    But my head says…wait a minute. Has she actually done anything outwith the counselling guidelines in practice yet? Plenty of mentions about how she bandies her conservative views about (as the article says, in and out of the classroom), but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would apply them to her work.

    Just because we know she would doesn’t mean we can prove she would.

    So, I think the college got things the wrong way round a bit. Rather than giving her the gay crash-course, I think they should have given her a gay obstacle course: a test case for her (and all the students) of dealing with a sexuality issue that was so provocative that she wouldn’t just flunk, she would self-combust with religious ire.

    Btw, in my head, a gay obstacle course would consist of: the Coming Out Climbing Frame, Power Clam Crawl, Dodge the Dildo and the My-Ex’s-Ex-Is-My-Girlfriend Balancing Act. And a sack race for the boys.

    • I agree–just because she has some beliefs that most would consider backwards (myself included), doesn’t mean that she is unable to overlook these beliefs for her job and job standards. There are biology teachers who believe in Creationism but manage to teach evolution just fine, etc. All counselors are probably going to have some beliefs that conflict with APA standards, but most of them would try to ignore their personal feelings and treat their patients without judgment.

      I mean, if this girl is going around saying that she’s going to try to convert gay patients, that’s clearly not okay. However, if she says that she believes in gay conversion (and all this other nonsense), but will not let it affect her professional life… I don’t know if it’s fair to force her to take remedial classes. If it was me, and someone said that my personal beliefs on any given subject would be make unable to do my job, it would bug me. I can follow rules, whether or not they’re to my liking.

      A bit of a “test” might be good for her, and then they’d have solid proof that she would treat patients unethically. And, really, it is something that they should teach all students to handle properly.

    • the tiny girl? i love her.

      she has this craze look.

      : )

      i hope that’s what you were talking about.. heehee

  19. By profession I am an HIV Prevention Specialist for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health. Part of my job involves doing HIV testing and counseling; I also teach other social workers and health care professionals how to do the same. The definition of HIV prevention counseling is to assist clients in making behavior changes that can reduce their risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV. But counseling of ANY kind relies on certain skills and concepts, and one of the three important “Counseling Concepts” is this:


    Anyone who does HIV prevention counseling is invariably going to be confronted with sexual behaviors and drug use behaviors that make us uncomfortable. But if we are unable to manage that discomfort, the counseling session will not be effective. If one of my clients feels that I’m being judgmental and sanctimonious, rather than caring and empathetic, that’s going to drive a big barrier between me and that person.

    Jennifer Keeton is entitled to her views about homosexuality. But COUNSELING is the wrong profession for her, as any professional counselor will have you know.

  20. I love how they claim it’s like ‘thought control’ – when her motivations are to counsel gay thoughts *out* of someone. Surely THAT’S thought control!

    You just can’t convince these people – someone that thick is basically not going to listen to any sort of rational argument

  21. it may be a mean thought, but sometimes I feel like christianity has become a possibility for hot white blonde privileged upper-middle class people to feel discriminated against.

    I think “forcing” her to attend Pride is not the right way, but is it too much to ask her to read articles about the counseling of lgbt people? isn’t that what’s required of all students?

    I never got the fuss about the first amendment anyways. and by that I don’t mean the first amendment itself but what people make of it – screaming “FREEDOM OF SPEECH” whenever they are asked to behave differently in certain situations or critisized for their utterances. freedom of speech/press is really, really important yet there HAVE to be boundaries. (but I feel rather ignorant/biased at this point because I’ve been brought up in a society where there’s a combination of the freedom of speech and press and boundaries, and for good reasons. really good reasons.)

    anyhow it’s not a bad thing she’s a christian and it’s not bad either that she personally believes in certain things regarding the lgbt community, though it might affect people in her personal life and personally I wish for 10 gay kids for every person this ignorant – BUT she should know what she’s dealing with when attending a counseling program. because basically her job will be to make young people feel good about themselves and that she cannot do if she isn’t even willing to accept other opinions and step back from her personal believes in her job.

    • With regards to attending Pride, that is actually something that in a lot of programs (including the one I graduated from) they have in the curriculum. Not necessarily Pride, but you are supposed to choose a culture that you are either A.unfamiliar with, or B. uncomfortable with, and immerse yourself in it, and write about your experiences. It just seems in this case, they are choosing FOR her, instead of letting her choose.

      • thanks for giving insight on the program! I think what you described is a great way for future counselors to learn more about themselves and their job. In the video it says she was suggested to attend Pride, that is ok, but still I think she should be able to choose “her” culture as well as the other students. (even though she obviously needs some education about some things…)

        and btw, I just noticed that the second time watching this pity party video: they say she wants to be able to work as a counselor and share her christian views, but as a counselor it won’t be her effing job to share her religious beliefs. jeez.

  22. And if someone chooses (apparently) to be gay or bisexual, what excactly is wrong with that? Personally, I am the way I am. I can’t recall choosing to be attracted to anyone ever. I just look at or talk to or randomly pass someone on the street and bam there it is, attracted – or not. So like all the scientific research and plain duh obviousness, I’m going with ‘born that way’. But still, if it were the case that I simply chose one day to deny my real attractions and live a different more ‘fashionable’ lifestyle by having a mutually consensual adult relationship with someone – so bloody what?! As I understand it, you won’t go to hell because I slept with someone, so quit worrying about it and focus on your own behaviour.

  23. Really, this is no different from a doctor who believes prayer is more effective than surgery, or a public school teacher who wants to proselytize. You can believe in healing through prayer all you want, but if I come in expecting surgery or a prescription and you just pray over me instead, I can sue. You can believe in the need to spread the word of God, but if you’re a public school teacher and you start proselytizing to students on the job, you’re breaking the law and I can sue.

    It’s the same thing here. No one is saying that she needs to change her opinions on homosexuality. They’re saying that she needs to be able to separate them from her work as a psychologist.

    Really, there are plenty of non-accredited Christian counseling programs she can enter if she wants to be able to turn away gay patients or to “convert” them to heterosexuality. It’s not like this girl doesn’t have options.

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