Texas LGBTQ+ Centers Denounce State Agencies

CenterLink along with six LGBTQ+ community centers in Texas condemn a recent proposal to strip explicit protections against discrimination by state-licensed social workers against clients.

Driven by Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners voted unanimously to change a section of its code of conduct that establishes when a social worker may refuse to serve someone. The code will no longer prohibit social workers from turning away clients based on disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

LGBTQ+ Texans lack the most basic protections against discrimination under state law and already struggle to find healthcare that is affordable and culturally competent. This new proposal allows Texans who identify as LGBTQ+ to be turned away or dissuaded from accessing necessary mental health and medical resources. At a time when so many people require these services to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare protections should be strengthened, not taken away.

Removing explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Texans from the social workers code of conduct puts an already vulnerable community at an even higher risk. A comprehensive new study by the Center for American Progress found that many LGBTQ+ people continue to face discrimination in their access to critical health care.  The study reports that 15 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans, including 3 in 10 transgender individuals, have postponed or avoided medical treatment because of discrimination.

According to the 2020 LGBTQ Community Center Survey Report published by Movement Advancement Project in October, more than two-thirds (67%) of participating centers provide direct mental health services, such as counseling, peer-led programs, or support groups. LGBTQ+ community centers in Texas could experience an influx of clients seeking services because of this discriminatory new rule and are already operating under financial and staffing constraints due to the pandemic.

"This action is incredibly irresponsible," said Denise Spivak, CEO of CenterLink. "Social workers are dedicated to serving those most in need, but the Governor's action once again sends the message that LGBTQ individuals should not expect to be treated equally when looking for support. Shame on you Governor Abbott."  

LGBTQ+ community centers across the country collectively serve over 58,300 individuals in a typical week and refer nearly 25,000 individuals per week to other agencies or providers for services and assistance.  In Dallas alone, more than 62,000 people access services offered at the Resource Center each year.

The Center - Pride Center San Antonio serves the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities by connecting them and their families to community resources and organizations related to health, wellness, support, education, activities, and advocacy. "It is our top priority to improve the quality of life and life outcomes for all LGBTQ+ people. Without affirming mental health spaces, LGBTQIA+ youth and adults are more likely to suffer and worse - they are at greater risk of self-harm. By removing sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and disability from the social work code, LGBTQ+ folks will face additional obstacles in accessing competent and affirming care with the dignity and respect they deserve." Robert Salcido, Jr., Executive Director, Pride Center San Antonio

Because LGBTQ+ persons face numerous health disparities compared to the general population, the Montrose Center in Houston has embraced an integrated care model with one-stop access to behavioral health and support services, adult primary care and psychiatry, and free wellness programs that empower individuals to proactively participate in their own care.

"The Montrose Center employees 22 social workers providing behavioral health and care coordination services. The codification of discrimination in the social work rules is exactly why the Center was founded to serve primarily LGBTQ+ consumers in 1978 to offer a safe and affirming option for care. Given that Texas does not protect all of its residents with statewide protections, it is imperative that an essential service such as behavioral health be protected through rules. We have seen all too often what happens when someone vulnerable and in trauma seeks services from a provider who is not affirming of their life. It only deepens the trauma. That is not what social work is about."  Ann J Robison, PhD, Executive Director of the Montrose Center, Houston

Social workers already have the ability to decline to provide services to a client based on their competencies and training.  They should not be able to discriminate based on selective personal values.  To intentionally expose LGBTQ+ people in Texas to more discrimination and less access to support is unconscionable and unethical.

CenterLink:  The Community of LGBT Centers

Resource Center

The Center - Pride Center San Antonio

The Montrose Center

Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation

Pride Community Center, Inc.

Open Arms Rape Crisis Center & LGBT+ Services

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