Calls strengthen for Texas board overseeing social workers to reverse ‘discriminatory’ change

Texas Politics
Texas Health and Human Services Commission

Texas Health and Human Services Commission (Nexstar Photo/Maggie Glynn)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Days after the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners voted unanimously to change part of its code of conduct, a growing call for the board to reverse its decision has gained momentum.

The code change no longer prohibits Texas social workers from denying clients because of their disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The results of the vote prompted outrage from members of the LGBTQ community and social worker advocacy groups.

“The reality is this sends the message that it’s okay to discriminate,” Will Francis of the National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter, said. “And that in and of itself may cause someone not to go for services, it could be afraid of that rejection, they could think that this person could turn them away and so they may not actually seek out the help they need.”

The move, apparently prompted by the governor’s office, has drawn ire from some state lawmakers.

A coalition of Texas Democrats in Congress wrote Gov. Greg Abbott and the presiding officers of the board as well as the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council, calling on a reversal to the decision.

“As more people turn to social workers in their time of need, it is shameful for the state to allow discrimination of any individual trying to get the resources they need,” Houston Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia and the other members wrote.

“As a former social worker, I am appalled by this recent removal of non-discrimination protections,” Garcia wrote in a separate statement. “Nobody, especially in the middle of a life-threatening, unprecedented pandemic, should be denied services, just for being who they are.”

The governor’s office defended the decision as typical procedure.

““It’s not surprising that a board would align its rules with statutes passed by the legislature,” Abbott spokesperson Renaw Eze said in an Oct. 15 statement.

State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said if the board decides not to change its decision during its Oct. 27 public meeting, he planned to file legislation with State Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, in the next legislative session to restore the protections for LGBTQIA and disabled communities.

“In addition to this, we will be filing legislation regarding out state and local suicide hotlines that will provide protections for our most vulnerable communities, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and individuals with disabilities,” Menéndez wrote in a statement. “Medical professionals and their resources—especially mental health services—should not be granted a license to discriminate against a person based on who they are.”

“These policy changes show how important it is we update Texas statute to be inclusive of all,” González stated.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D- Fort Worth, indicated she wrote to the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council calling for “immediate reinstatement of protections.”

“Discrimination has no place in Texas & it is time we move beyond politically-motivated attacks on our communities,” Powell tweeted.

The all-Democrat El Paso state legislative delegation issued a statement chastising the decision.

“We strongly oppose the decision the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners made to amend its code of conduct which will most assuredly exacerbate the existing barriers that the LGBTQ community and individuals with disabilities already face to accessing health care. The board’s decision also unnecessarily risks costly legal fees during a budget crisis because the proposed rule change was not posted in the Texas Register and could be challenged for discriminatory intent. The board has a duty to set the highest ethical standards for the practice of social work, and should not be rolling back well-established protections for protected classes.”

In response to the board’s vote, disability rights group ADAPT of Texas called for the resignation of the board members.

“If this is the caliber of people examining and licensing social workers in Texas, they should all resign” said ADAPT member Stephanie Thomas.

“The fact that the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is against this move, shows the absurdity of this maneuver” said Nancy Crowther, ADAPT Organizer and social work degree holder. 

“They might as well stick a knife in the heart of the profession” she stated.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, advocacy organization leaders, and others impacted by the board’s ruling of the board’s decision will host a press conference on Friday at noon CDT.

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