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Texas social workers will no longer be allowed to turn away clients who are LGBTQ or have disabilities, after a state board reversed an earlier decision granting them special religious exemptions.
The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to restore protections for LGBTQ and disabled clients that the Council had previously stripped away earlier this month.
That change was requested by Gov. Greg Abbott in order to ensure that social workers who have religious beliefs opposing homosexuality or transgenderism would not be forced to condone an LGBTQ client’s lifestyle or relationship choices.
But the board’s actions created a massive backlash from lawmakers, LGBTQ advocates, and social workers, who argued that the exemption ran counter to professional and ethical standards for social workers.
The Board of Trustees of the Texas Psychological Association wrote a letter to the Council slamming its members for voting to redact language guaranteeing protections for individuals who are LGBTQ or have disabilities, calling the move “disturbing.”
“It is direct insult to the already marginalized and vulnerable populations singled out with this action,” the letter reads. “As mental health professionals trained to provide care to all individuals, we do not discriminate based on personal values, and our state regulatory boards should not be encouraging such behavior.
“This rule change seeks to deny basic human rights to the Texas citizens who are singled out by this action. It is incomprehensible that such discriminatory behavior was ever the intent of the Texas Legislature or that it reflects the will of the public.”
Gloria Canseco, an Abbott appointee who serves as the head of Council, said she regretted that the previous rule change was “perceived as hostile to the LGBTQ+ community or to disabled persons, reports the Texas Tribune.
“At every opportunity our intent is to prohibit discrimination against any person for any reason,” she said.
Two lawmakers who had criticized the earlier vote, State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and State Rep. Jessica González (D-Dallas), urged the board to reverse itself and promised to file legislation next year to prevent discrimination against marginalized groups.
The board also voted to seek an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office about the legality of its rule change, even though Paxton has historically opposed recognizing legal protections for LGBTQ Texan. The board previously indicated that it believed Paxton would support keeping religious exemptions in place — meaning its most recent actions will not be the final word on the matter.
Still, Will Francis, the executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, praised the council’s decision to restore the protections.
“We are so grateful for the vote to keep the anti-discrimination protections in place,” Francis said. “This 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.”
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