Texas social workers will no longer be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ Texans and people with disabilities

Activists and members of Austin’s LGBTQ community gather on the steps of the state Capitol to celebrate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots on June 28, 2017. (Credit: Austin Price for The Texas Tribune)
Activists and members of Austin’s LGBTQ community gather on the steps of the state Capitol to celebrate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots on June 28, 2017. (Credit: Austin Price for The Texas Tribune)

After backlash from lawmakers and advocates, a state board voted Tuesday to undo a rule change that would have allowed social workers to turn away clients who are LGBTQ or have a disability.

The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council voted unanimously to restore protections for LGBTQ and disabled clients to Texas social workers’ code of conduct just two weeks after removing them.

Gloria Canseco, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to lead the behavioral health council, expressed regret that the previous rule change was “perceived as hostile to the LGBTQ+ community or to disabled persons.”

“At every opportunity our intent is to prohibit discrimination against any person for any reason,” she said.

Abbott’s office recommended earlier this month that the board strip three categories from a code of conduct that establishes when a social worker may refuse to serve someone.

The governor’s office recommended removing language that prohibited social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. The reason, Abbott’s office said, was because the code’s nondiscrimination protections went beyond protections laid out in the state law that governs how and when the state may discipline social workers.

That set off an immediate firestorm of criticism from social workers, LGBTQ advocates and advocates for people with disabilities.

Tim Brown, a social worker on the behavioral health council, complained that he had been the subject of much criticism after the board’s earlier vote on Oct. 12. He said the board made its vote not because it wanted to permit discrimination but because it was stuck between the “proverbial rock and a hard place.”