The administration of Texas Governor Greg Abbott pressured a state’s regulatory board to change its rules so that social workers can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.
Abbott’s office said the rule change was necessary to bring the state regulatory board in line with Texas law, but professional social workers say the rule change is still unethical, immoral, and will harm people who already find it difficult to access medical and mental health care.
On Friday, October 9, Alice Bradford, executive director of the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners (TSBSWE), received an email from Abbott’s staff recommending that the board change a rule in its code of conduct that forbids social workers from turning away clients based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The board added protections for sexual orientation in 2010 and gender identity in 2012, according to Newsweek. But a 2019 state law granted the governor’s office more influence over how state-licensed professions regulate their workers.
Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton — both of whom have joined state Republicans in opposing any expansions of LGBTQ rights — told the board that it needed to change its rules because they went beyond the scope of the nondiscrimination protections and disciplinary measures allowed by Texas law.
So, on Monday, the TSBSWE voted unanimously to change its code of conduct. Now social workers can refuse clients because of their LGBTQ identity or disability.
Will Francis, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, called the rule change “incredibly disheartening” and criticized the board for voting without first getting feedback from licensed social workers on how the rule would impact their work and their clients.
Steven Parks, a social worker in Houston, told the Texas Tribune that while the rule change is technically legal, it’s also unethical. He added that the state has basically permitted social workers to exercise personal prejudice under the guise of state law.
He also told KVUE that LGBTQ people, especially those living in rural areas, may now find it harder to access medical or mental health care now that state social workers can simply refuse to work with them.