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Texas Values Opposes New Sexual Rule for Social Workers in Legal Brief

On January, 15, 2021, Texas Values team members submitted a detailed legal brief, explaining why the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council does not have authority to provide special protections based on the controversial and politically charged terms of “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) in the code of conduct for licensed social workers. SOGI policies are often used as weapons to punish people who follow a biblical definition of biological sex, by forcing them to accept others people’s views on these issues or face being banned from their profession, fined or jail time.

In the middle of last year, Governor Greg Abbott’s office, while doing an across the board analysis of state agency policies, discovered that the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners (Social Worker Board) had a section in the social worker’s code of conduct that included the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI), which doesn’t align to state law. Apparently, this change had been made a few years before without involving the Texas Legislature. Gov. Abbott’s office instructed the Social Worker Board to bring it in alignment with state law. In early October, the Social Worker Board voted unanimously to accept the governor’s suggestions and align with existing law by removing the problematic section, as efforts at the Texas Legislature to add SOGI language for social workers professional conduct failed to pass in 2019.

By late October of 2020, BHEC, the overseeing agency for the Social Worker Board, held a hearing to discuss the Social Worker Board’s change and voted to reverse that decision and reinstate protections for LGBT people. Texas Values presented testimony at this hearing, in opposition to the adding of the controversial sexual orientation and gender identity language. BHEC also decided to send a letter requesting a legal opinion to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Texas. The letter from BHEC Executive Director Darrel Spinks strongly stated the Council’s belief that it possessed the authority to unilaterally implement SOGI language in its code of conduct. The OAG’s office requested briefs from interested parties to the issue, including Texas Values.

The Texas Values legal brief extensively recounts the Texas Legislature’s history of voting down bills to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications under state law. For example, last session, HB 517 by Celia Israel purported to punish Christian counselors for practicing their profession according to their sincerely held religious beliefs, and would have applied directly to social workers. Texas Values team members opposed HB 517 along with numerous other individuals and groups. The Texas Legislature had an opportunity to add SOGI language for social workers in 2019 and but this effort failed. The will and intent of the Texas Legislature is clear, they do not support adding sexual orientation and gender identity special protections to state law for professional conduct standards for social workers.

The brief also explains that such SOGI language is outside the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The Supreme Court expressly rejected any broad interpretations in the opinion written by Justice Gorsuch.

Finally, our legal brief makes it clear that any adoption of SOGI language violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and discriminates against people of faith who hold millenia-old views regarding what it means to be male and female. The brief recounts the case of Julea Ward, a graduate student who won a settlement against her university after being expelled from her counseling program because of her beliefs about human sexuality.

The deadline for briefs from interested parties was January 15, 2021. The OAG’s office will review responses and issue an opinion in the coming months.

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