Two weeks ago, the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously to change its code of conduct to allow for discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. Now they’ve completely reversed that decision, unanimously voting this time to restore those exact protections.
As soon as the changes in the code of conduct were first announced, the decision received backlash from lawmakers and LGBTQ+ and civil rights advocates across the country, who said the change created “two classes of Texans.” There were fears that tens of thousands of disabled and LGBTQ+ youth in the Texas foster system, as well as potential foster parents, could be adversely affected.
State Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat and a social worker, told the Texas Tribune, “this flies in the face of everything that we’ve been taught, everything that we’ve been trained, everything that exists in our national code of conduct and our code of ethics.”
State Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat from San Antonio, and state Rep. Jessica González, a Democrat from Dallas, asked the board the undo the rule change and said they’d file legislation to protect maginalized groups from discrimination next year.
“Sometimes when you’re put in a position of leadership, it can be a very lonely place,” Menéndez had told the board, “and at times you’re being put in a position where you’re being asked to do something that you have to bush back against.”
The board had originally banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2010, and gender identity in 2012, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott felt the protections went too far beyond the protections offered by state law. He recommended to the board that they reverse those protections.
The board also voted to seek an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Tea Party conservative, on the legality of the rule change. Previous statements indicate that the board believes he will likely oppose explicit protections for LGBTQ+ Texans in the code.
Will Fancis, executive director for the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers said that putting the protections back in place “is a recognition of the key principle that a social worker’s personal beliefs must never impede a person’s right to self-determination or access to services.”