Texas social workers can now turn away LGBTQ clients and those with a disability.
The state Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously to change a section of its code of conduct last week following a recommendation from Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to remove protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Abbott’s office said the change was suggested because the board’s nondiscrimination clause went beyond the state’s policy on social work, according to The Associated Press.
“It’s not surprising that a board would align its rules with statutes passed by the Legislature,” Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott’s office, said.
Officials and the state Board of Social Work Examiners is now facing backlash for the decision, with some advocacy and professional organizations saying it could put already vulnerable disabled and LGBTQ people at a greater risk.
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After the policy change became public, seven advocacy groups released a joint statement condemning the move.
“The social workers code of conduct previously helped ensure ethical treatment of all clients and prevented bias-motivated misconduct,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the statewide LGBTQ group Equality Texas, said in the statement. “Now with the removal of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression from the code, LGBTQ+ folks who experience discrimination could face more obstacles to getting the help they need.”
Transgender rights groups spoke to how the policy could affect trans individuals' health and safety during the pandemic.
“There is always a real possibility that trans Texans specifically could be turned away or dissuaded from accessing the medical resources they need,” Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said in the joint statement. “At a time when many in our community require services to make it through an isolating pandemic, attempting to grant providers a license to discriminate is abhorrent.”
The National Association of Social Workers also criticized the board’s acceptance of Abbott’s recommendation. Will Francis, executive director of the association's Texas chapter, called the move “incredible disheartening" during a public meeting and criticized the Texas board's decision not to seek public comment before changing its code of conduct.
“It’s disturbing, even if it’s unintentional,” Francis said. “They created space for people to get the impression that this is allowed now.”