Texas’s Board of Social Workers voted unanimously to remove protections for LGBTQ people and those with disabilities from its code of conduct, allowing them to refuse clients on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Governor Greg Abbott recommended the protections be removed, since the board’s nondiscrimination clause went beyond the state’s policy, the Associated Press reports. The governor’s request had not been included on the board’s agenda, and public comment before the vote was not permitted.
The decision has been roundly criticized by advocacy groups, with Will Francis, the head of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, calling it “incredibly disheartening:”
“It’s disturbing, even if it’s unintentional. They created space for people to get the impression that this is allowed now. What the governor has done is put people with disabilities at risk for discrimination for no reason.”
Darrel Spinks, the council’s executive director, told the Texas Tribune that he had sought an “informal” opinion from the attorney general’s office, which he said agreed with Abbott. “Your rule needs to match what the statute is,” Spinks said.
But Francis disagreed. “Rules can always cover more ground as long they don’t contradict the law, which these protections did not,” he said.
Protections for gender and identity have been part of the state’s code of conduct since 2012.