‘Our rights are at risk’: Texas rule allowing social workers to turn away LGBTQ+ clients, people with disabilities draws criticism

The new rule, which was announced this week, has sparked frustration

SAN ANTONIO – A change in policies has led to criticism of the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners after it announced Monday that social workers will now be able to turn away LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities.

Anel Flores believes it opens the door for further discrimination.

“By taking away the protections from the most vulnerable, it’s just the beginning,” she said.

Flores, her partner and two daughters all identify as LGBTQ+. She said she is worried about her children’s well-being and future, and she is fearful of what can happen next.

“All of our rights are at risk,” Flores said.

The changes come after a recommendation from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. The office stated the code of conduct’s nondiscrimination protections went beyond state law.

According to the state’s current law, a social worker can face disciplinary action if they refuse services to clients based on religion, race or age. However, the writing does not include sexual orientation or disability.

The state board sent KSAT the following statement:

"The Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners and Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council held a joint meeting on Monday, October 12th to consider adoption of the proposed changes to 22 TAC Chapter 781 published in the July 17th edition of the Texas Register.

"As part of this rules package, the Board and Council considered changes to proposed new rule 22 TAC 781.301(a)(1) to align the text of the rule with the underlying statutory authority found in Section 505.451(13) of the Occupations Code. These changes were then adopted in an open meeting in accordance with the governing law.

While these changes reflect the agency’s duty to duly enacted statutes, the Board and Council recognize the importance of legal protection from discrimination. To that end, Chair Canseco has directed that the issue of discrimination by licensees be placed on the Council’s October 27th meeting agenda for further discussion and possible action."

The Rev. Naomi Brown is the vice-chair at Pride Center San Antonio. Brown also serves as a licensed social worker. She said the change is hurting more than helping.

“That code of conduct exists for a reason. It is standards that we practice by,” she said.

Brown said she believes social work is about adapting to others' needs, and refusing to help is detrimental.

“If one person thinks they can be discriminated against, then the damage is done.”

About the Author:

Steven Cavazos is a traffic anchor and general assignments reporter on weekday mornings at KSAT 12. He is also part of the Solutionaries team. He has deep South Texas roots: born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, graduated from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and worked in Harlingen and Corpus Christi before coming to KSAT 12 in 2019.