DALLAS — A state council voted this week to reverse a decision that would have allowed social workers to turn away LGBTQ clients or those with disabilities.

After backlash from lawmakers, social workers and advocacy groups, the Texas Behavioral Executive Council voted unanimously to again include disability, sexual orientation and gender identity in the nondiscrimination clause of the social worker code of conduct, according to The Texas Tribune.

On Oct. 12, in a joint meeting with the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners, the council had voted unanimously to take those protections away. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s office had recommended that move, saying it would align better with the state’s discrimination policy for social workers, the Occupations Code.

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But lawmakers, social workers and advocacy groups were outraged by the change.

The decision was condemned in a joint statement by seven advocacy groups: Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, National Association for Social Workers-Texas Chapter, Texas Freedom Network, ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign.

They said the decision was an effort by the governor’s office to exempt social workers and other mental health professionals from nondiscrimination requirements because of their religious beliefs after the state legislature was unable to pass bills to that effect.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had called the move “disturbing” in a tweet, saying it was “one more reason we must turn Texas blue.”

Rep. Sylvia Garcia led a group of U.S. House Democrats, including Reps. Veronica Escobar, Lloyd Doggett, Colin Allred, Al Green, Henry Cuellar, Marc Veasey, Vicente Gonzalez, Joaquin Castro, Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, in sending a letter asking that the council reverse the decision.

Garcia called the reversal “a big win for justice.”

The Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the largest professional organization of social workers in the country, applauded the change in a statement.

“This is a recognition of the key principle that a social worker’s personal beliefs must never impede a person’s right to self-determination or access to services,” Will Francis, executive director of the NASW Texas Chapter, said on Twitter.

State Rep. Jessica González of Dallas had urged the council to reverse the decision at its meeting earlier this week. She also said she would work to pass legislation to protect LGBTQ Texans and those with disabilities from discrimination.

“I look forward to passing a comprehensive non-discrimination bill during the 87th legislative session that will protect all Texans from discrimination in public accommodations, employment, and housing,” she said in a news release. “We must send a message to all LGBTQ+ Texans — especially our youth — that Texas values and recognizes them for who they are, and they are welcome in Texas.”

The council voted to seek an opinion regarding the legality of the reversal from Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton’s office has already indicated to the council that it agreed with Abbott’s position.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an advocacy organization for LBGTQ Texans, recommended that the council “reconsider” seeking Paxton’s opinion, citing his history of siding against expanded protections for LGBTQ people.

“The legislature can and should remove all doubt on this matter by finally doing what the vast majority of Texans support: passing a comprehensive nondiscrimination law in 2021 to make it clear that no one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love,” Martinez said in a statement.

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