'A big win for justice!': Texas officials scrap rule that would allow social workers to deny LGBTQ, disabled clients

Texas officials on Tuesday reversed a rule that would have allowed social workers to turn away clients who are LGBTQ or have a disability.

Lawmakers and advocates last week criticized the Texas State Board of Social Workers and the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council for unanimously voting on Oct. 12 to remove disability, sexual orientation and gender identity from the nondiscrimination clause of its code of conduct.

The board made its decision based solely on a recommendation from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and without seeking input from social workers.

Will Francis, director of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, told USA TODAY that the board "made the right decision."

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Democratic U.S. Rep Sylvia Garcia called the rule change "a big win for justice!" on Twitter. Last week, Garcia and 10 other members of Congress wrote a letter calling on state officials to reverse the "outrageous rule."

The behavioral health council expressed regret on Tuesday that the initial decision was “perceived as hostile to the LGBTQ+ community or to disabled persons,” the Texas Tribune reported.

"At every opportunity our intent is to prohibit discrimination against any person for any reason,” said Gloria Canseco, the council's presiding officer who was appointed by Abbott, the Tribune reported.

The board on Tuesday also voted to seek a legal opinion from Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton about the policy change. Paxton has historically opposed protections for LGBTQ individuals, the Tribune reported.

While Paxton could push back on the reversal, Francis said his opinion carries "a lot of political weight and will put pressure on them to either keep it as is and or look at still having to do something."

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Texas, urged the board against involving Paxton because it would cause "further harm."

"The Legislature can and should remove all doubt on this matter by finally doing what the vast majority of Texans support: passing a comprehensive nondiscrimination law in 2021 to make it clear that no one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love," Martinez said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. José Menéndez and Democratic Rep. Jessica González said last week they would introduce legislation in the next session that would prevent discrimination against vulnerable communities, including people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

"To not only provide protection against discrimination for anyone in social work, but I honestly believe that we should extend these discrimination protections for people in the workplace or from people that are renting homes," Menéndez told USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas social workers can't turn away LGBTQ, disabled clients