I have been a social worker for 10 years and a gay, Latino Texan since birth. I take pride in what I do and who I am. So I am outraged by the decision last week by the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners to change its code of conduct to allow social workers to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community.
The policy change, recommended by Gov. Greg Abbott, takes away language that used to prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as disability. Inserting prejudice into the Social Work Code of Conduct is extremely damaging. It invites malice into a profession that exists to serve and do no harm to individuals and communities. It opens a path to harm LGBTQ Texans. Abbott may not be concerned about those consequences. But I know many social workers take issue with this strike against LGBTQ people and the professionals who are supposed to help them.
I chose this profession because it allows me to live out my calling to help others. For the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of supporting people in their time of need. I help clients look within and outside of themselves to boldly face challenging and traumatic aspects of their life in order to find healing and growth.
When I look at Texas, its people and the systems that make up this state — whose greatness hangs on a thread due to many of Abbott’s decisions as governor — I see a need for healing. I see a need for the work that social workers do tirelessly every day.
My profession is a helping profession committed to serving without discrimination. As social workers, we embody and preserve our values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence.
These values come from the National Association of Social Workers, and they encourage us to “treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences.” So you see, the door that Abbott has forced open for Texas social workers to discriminate against LGBTQ people goes against our values as a profession, which exists beyond this state.
Social workers operate in every corner of Texas. We are in schools, hospitals, police departments, communities, local and state government, private sectors and beyond. We are critical thinkers, collaborators, and integral components to the success and healing of students, families, patients, victims of crime, employees and communities of this great state.
Abbott’s order to cultivate malevolence into the social work profession and against LGBTQ people for no good reason will not go unnoticed by voters. Before anyone is a voter, we are people who experience grief, anxiety, depression and face numerous barriers to living a life of joy and fulfillment. This is where our work as social workers begins.
I hope Abbott will reconsider. I urge him to direct the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners and all the boards under the Behavioral Health Executive Council to implement protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
I do my job as a social worker and mental health professional without intention to discriminate based on a client’s personal identity. If Abbott were to present himself to me as a potential client — and I had full knowledge of who he is, what he has done to vulnerable and marginalized people in this state, and what he stands for — I would serve him, as long as I were professionally competent to provide him with the support he required. I would serve him because I am committed to the values that social work has instilled in me as a professional.
Sanchez is a clinical social worker and writer who lives in Austin.
This op-ed originally ran in the Austin American-Statesman. It is republished here with the permission of the author.