We the board of the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers received the stunning news about the change to the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct that “slipped in” at the last minute at a request of Governor Greg Abbott.
This bypassed the usual 30-day requirement for public comment and bypassed usual approval procedures because it was voted on and approved at a joint meeting of the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners (TSBSWE) and the Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC, TSBSWE’s governing body).
The governor personally strong-armed the board into approving this change, without an opportunity for public comment. His explanation was that elsewhere in the Texas Code and legislation, this language is not used and therefore should be removed from the Social Work Code to align it better with the “usual” language. In other words, our state does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes (as we do race, religion, etc.) and therefore Texas social workers should not either.
We are both horrified and speechless at the removal of the protections against discrimination for disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression from the Social Work Code of Conduct. This move appears to be an exertion of the governor’s power in both a professional and a deeply personal way.
The standing precedent is that political agents are not to dictate the Social Work Code of Conduct; this responsibility belongs to the TSBSWE. The State Code is also presented as a minimum and is not expected to be inclusive for every profession, area of practice, and population – governing boards are appointed to make rules, as deemed necessary and appropriate for their respective professions. The law should never sanction unethical practices and in fact, should do just the opposite.
As we are called by our National Code of Ethics to both, not discriminate or oppress any group or person, for any reason, and to speak out against systems that seek to do just this, we refuse to accept such dehumanization. The rule to protect access of services for persons of all sexual orientations and gender expressions was added to our Code in 2012, without objection from the governor’s office.
This language MUST be restored immediately. We must make sure that our VOTES are for representatives who will help us protect access to service for the most vulnerable. This is just the beginning.
NASW is mobilizing action steps to fight this. Members can call their state representatives and the governor’s office right now to oppose, but we will need something collective to beat back this oppressive action. Religious freedom must never come at the expense of serving the most vulnerable in our communities. Social workers must stand against removing any anti-discrimination protections from the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct.
To see a full list of the NASW/TX board members please visit https://www.naswtx.org/page/Board_and_Staff. To receive the latest updates on the subject visit our website, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (NASW/TX and NASW/TX Advocacy.