New Texas Rule Lets Social Workers Turn Away LGBTQ Clients

Texas social workers are criticizing a state regulatory board’s decision this week to remove protections for LGBTQ clients and clients with disabilities who seek social work services.

The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously Monday to change a section of its code of conduct that establishes when a social worker may refuse to serve someone. The code will no longer prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office recommended the change, board members said, 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.

“It’s not surprising that a board would align its rules with statutes passed by the Legislature,” said Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze. A state law passed last year gave the governor’s office more control over rules governing state-licensed professions.

“There’s now a gray area between what’s legally allowed and ethically responsible,” he said. “The law should never allow a social worker to legally do unethical things.”

The Republican-led Texas Legislature has long opposed expanding nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ Texans in employment, housing and other areas of state law.

Alice Bradford, the board’s executive director, said she received an email from the governor’s staff recommending the change Friday, three days before the board’s Monday vote.

Francis pushed back against that idea. “Rules can always cover more ground as long they don’t contradict the law, which these protections did not,” he said.

U.S. health officials have identified more than 100 Texas counties, particularly in rural areas, with a shortage of social workers and other mental health professionals. Parks, the Houston social worker, said the policy change could impact LGBTQ clients’ access to mental health services in those areas.

“There’s research to show that members of the queer community … are at higher risk for trauma, higher risk for all sorts of mental health conditions,” he said.