The Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners voted unanimously to allow social workers to refuse services to LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities on Oct. 12. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office recommended this change, their reasoning being that the original code set for social workers exceeded protections laid out by Texas state laws.
I feel it is important to note that Gov. Abbot himself has a physical disability, but I suppose with a net worth of about $20 million, he’s unbothered by a lack of protections.
By the time of this publication, the Texas State Board of Social Work examiners met Oct. 27 to revisit the issue, and they reversed it. Yet, damage has already been done. What the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners might have seen as a simple change of code, the rest of us see as a clear message that they chose to reinforce the state at the expense of people’s lives. This erodes trust between the public and social workers, which was already precarious.
This change posed many threats and questions. With the reasoning being that social workers should not be held to a standard in conflict with state laws, the other 21 states that lack explicit LGBTQ+ protections could have also put our ability to safely seek support on the chopping block. And what about the many states with no, or abysmal, employment protections for people with disabilities?
While these protections certainly matter, they still offer little against most day-to-day struggles. Laws don’t necessarily do much to protect from the myriad ways discrimination and harassment continue to mar our daily lives. So, this is not just an issue for those living in states whose laws reflect antiquated beliefs. This posed a threat even to “liberal” areas.
The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics explicitly states that “Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical ability.”
The changes made to the Texas State Board of Social Work policy directly conflicted with the National Code of Ethics. This set a concerning precedent that could’ve rendered the National Code obsolete. Why have a National Code of Ethics if states have the ability to contradict these standards?
This conflict put Texas Social Workers in a tricky situation. Many were forced to choose between abiding by the National Code they agreed to or continuing work as usual, sanctioning a big shift that effectively “collaborated with” forms of discrimination, breaking the Code of Ethics.
Though systems of social work in the United States are deeply flawed, at its best, social work is meant to serve the purpose of “alleviating the conditions of those in need of help or welfare,” as defined in the Oxford dictionary. If we slowly shrink the pool of people social workers are expected to serve, what purpose does the profession offer? Who will be drawn to this field, and what kind of care will they provide?
In an ideal world, people with disabilities and people who are LGBTQ+ would not need social workers because everybody would be taken care of. In an ideal world, the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners would not have an excuse to change their code, because Texas would have laws in place to protect their constituents. But we don’t live in that world, so it’s imperative there are people whose job it is to help us navigate complicated systems that were built without our well-being in mind.
The Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners had a chance to learn from their mistake. Thankfully, they reversed their poor decision. But I don’t wish to give credit to the Texas State of Social Work Examiners, as they simply reversed the harmful decision they’d made in the first place.
This entire ordeal illustrates that, ultimately, we must constantly hold institutions accountable to those they’re meant to serve. Had it not been for public outrage, would they have done what was right? We can’t know for sure.
Read more in the Nov. 4-10, 2020 issue.