Vulnerable trans people ‘could be turned away from medical resources’ after discrimination protections scrapped

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott meets Donald Trump at the White House in May 2020. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

LGBT+ equality groups in Texas have warned a recent decision to strip discrimination protections could have a grave impact on the trans community.

After a recommendation from Republican governor Greg Abbott, the state Board of Social Work Examiners last week voted unanimously to strip protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and disability from its code of conduct.

The move means that social workers in Texas can turn away LGBT+ and disabled clients.

Abbott’s team said that stripping away these non-discrimination protections made sense because the board’s non-discrimination clause went further than the state’s own policy.

“It’s not surprising that a board would align its rules with statutes passed by the legislature,” said Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott’s office. Abbott is disabled and has used a wheelchair since an accident in 1984 left him paralysed from the waist down.

Equality Texas, an LGBT+ advocacy organisation, released a statement denouncing the move.

“The social workers code of conduct previously helped ensure ethical treatment of all clients and prevented bias-motivated misconduct,” said Ricardo Martinez, chief executive officer of Equality Texas.

“Now with the removal of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression from the code, LGBTQ+ folks who experience discrimination could face more obstacles to getting the help they need.”

Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said: “There is always a real possibility that trans Texans specifically could be turned away or dissuaded from accessing the medical resources they need.

“At a time when many in our community require services to make it through an isolating pandemic, attempting to grant providers a license to discriminate is abhorrent.”

The policy change has attracted criticism from social work organisations, with Will Francis, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, calling it “incredibly disheartening”.

“It’s disturbing, even if it’s unintentional,” Francis said. “They created space for people to get the impression that this is allowed now.”

Steven Parks, a social worker in private practice in Houston, said the rule change was “both a professional and a personal gut punch”.

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

The issues will be revisited by the social work board on October 27.

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