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For Immediate Release: Advocacy, Professional Groups Denounce State Agencies for Stripping Out Explicit Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ Texans
Posted on October 16, 2020 at 12:34 pm

JOINT PRESS RELEASE

Media Contracts: Angela Hale, angela.hale@equalitytexas.org, 512.289.2995, Emmett Schelling, info@transtexas.org 

Will Francis, wfrancis.naswtx@socialworkers.org, 512.589-9117, Dan Quinn, dan@tfn.org, 512.799.3379, Tom Warnke, twarnke@lambdalegal.org, 213-841-4503  

Advocacy, professional groups denounce state agencies for stripping out explicit nondiscrimination protections for lgbtq texans

Agencies Bow to Gov. Abbott on Trying to Open Door to Discrimination against LGBTQ Texans Seeking Social, Behavioral Health Services

Austin, Texas – October 15, 2020- Equality Texas, the largest statewide organization solely dedicated to securing full equality for LGBTQ Texans, today along with our partner organizations are expressing anger and dismay after the Texas social work licensing board and the agency that houses it on Monday moved suddenly to strip out explicit protections against discrimination by state-licensed social workers against clients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

“The social workers code of conduct previously helped ensure ethical treatment of all clients and prevented bias-motivated misconduct,” said Ricardo Martinez, Chief Executive Officer of Equality Texas. “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.”

“Many LGBTQ+ Texans struggle to access competent, quality, and affordable health care as is,” said Emmett Schelling, Executive Director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “There is always a real possibility that trans Texans specifically could be turned away or dissuaded from accessing the medical resources they need. 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.”

At a joint meeting Monday, the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners and Behavioral Health Executive Council approved a last-minute request from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office to remove from the social work Code of Conduct a prohibition on discrimination against clients because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The governor’s request had not been included in agenda materials, and public comment on the change before the vote was not permitted. The agencies also stripped out nondiscrimination language on disability but left most prohibitions against discrimination based on other characteristics, including a client’s age, gender, race, religion, or political affiliation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that federal protections against employment discrimination based on gender also apply to discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, professional conduct rules still bar social workers from discriminating, said Will Francis, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – Texas Chapter.

“Social workers already have the ability to decline to provide services to a client based on their competencies and training, but they cannot discriminate based on selective personal values,” Francis said. “The language in the Code of Conduct was taken directly from the social work Code of Ethics, which was developed in 1960 and serves as the standard bearer for defining the values and principles that guide social workers’ conduct in all practice areas.”

The action by Gov. Abbott represents an end run around the refusal by lawmakers in recent legislative sessions to pass bills exempting social workers and mental health professionals from nondiscrimination requirements on the basis of their religious beliefs. It is another example of Texas officials trying to erase protections for LGBTQ individuals by overstepping their role in rules oversight.

“No Texan should stay quiet when the Governor attempts to impose rules and regulations on the general public that the Legislature has itself rejected more than once,” said Avery Belyeu, Regional Director for Lambda Legal’s Dallas office.

“This is cruel, cowardly politics at its worst,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. “Pro-discrimination groups couldn’t get this passed into law, but Gov. Abbott has done their bidding by pushing it through administratively in an obscure meeting when he thought few people were watching. Discrimination is shameful, even more so when you try to hide what you’re doing.”

Removing explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Texans from the Code of Conduct puts an already vulnerable community at even higher risk:

  • A Center for American Progress study from June found LGBTQ American face staggering levels of discrimination in all aspects of their lives, including health care, leading to significant mental health and economic issues. And 15 percent of LGBTQ Americans, including 3 in 10 transgender individuals, reported postponing or avoiding medical treatment because of discrimination.
  • The New York Times this summer found that LGBTQ youth face additional pandemic-related challenges “resulting from limited access to community support, lack of in-school counseling, and…the difficult circumstances of quarantining with unsupportive family members.”
  • Even before the COVID pandemic, AARP found that 75 percent of older LGBTQ people were concerned about having adequate family or social support as they age.

A December 2019 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law found that 35 percent of LGBTQ Texans aged 18–44, 29 percent of those aged 45 or older, and 39 percent LGBTQ Texans of color were living in poverty.

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Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. The Equality Texas Foundation works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through education, community organizing, and collaboration.