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A Texas regulatory board removed discrimination protections. Critics are fighting back

Earlier this month a Texas regulatory board voted to remove discrimination protections for some seeking social services. The protections had prohibited social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano spoke with Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, about the implications for these communities.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Earlier this month, a Texas regulatory board voted to remove discrimination protections for LGBTQ and disabled persons seeking social work services.

    At the recommendation of Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas State Board of Social Work examiners changed part of their code of conduct in a unanimous vote. The code prohibited social workers from turning away clients on the basis of disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. Critics are urging lawmakers to reverse the decision.

    NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, about what the change means for members of those communities.

  • Ricardo Martinez:

    You know, plainly, this is a very damning message that is sent to LGBTQ people and folks with disabilities. As a marginalized community, I think we get this pretty often. Right? And this is a continued degradation of a very prosecuted, marginalized community that is really suffering at the moment. Right. And to do this during a pandemic when people need access to mental health services and social workers, I think it sends the wrong message and it adds some additional barriers and challenges that we really don't need at this time to get folks the medical care that they need.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    The board voted unanimously to remove these discrimination protections based on a recommendation by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. How does this decision fit into the larger picture of the fight for LGBTQ rights in Texas?

  • Ricardo Martinez:

    Many Texans are not aware that LGBTQ people can legally be fired or refused housing or denied services simply because of who they are, here in Texas. And that is unkind. That is unfair. That's really unacceptable.

    Currently, Texas is one of 27 states where there are no protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the only way that we can achieve the freedom that LGBTQ people need to live, to work, to earn a living, to raise a family and to contribute to our society fully, is to pass a comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination law that protects all people, including LGBTQ people. And that's going to be our top priority in the legislative session in 2021.

  •  Ivette Feliciano:

    And how does the fight for LGBTQ rights in Texas intersect with the specific concerns of queer and trans immigrants and people of color in Texas?

  •  Ricardo Martinez:

    We are still going through COVID. And, you know, our community lacks basic protections from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and healthcare, like I mentioned before. And those are the cornerstones of stability. Right. And many folks are struggling with that stability.

    This is not an easy time. Many in our community have preexisting health conditions that have left their immune system compromised or placed them in higher-risk groups. Right. So you add on top of that race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and many other identity markers and it creates this multifaceted consequence for individuals in our community.

    We want to protect all of our members of the LGBTQ community. And I think, you know, some of us are predisposed or more at risk because of some of those classifications I just discussed.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Looking ahead to the November elections, what is your deal? What is your team doing to organize LGBTQ voters?

  •  Ricardo Martinez:

    Our mission, one of the core values in the core tactics that we focus on really is education, right? Making sure that folks have the information that they need to make informed decisions at the polls. So early voting, the importance of voting down-ballot, how to report issues with voting, if you're experiencing any.

    Educating voters on who the prolific filers of anti-LGBTQ bills are is also incredibly important. Right? People should know who the folks are, who are incumbents that have not been doing their job to protect their constituents.

  •  Ivette Feliciano:

    Ricardo Martinez of Equality, Texas, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Ricardo Martinez:

    Thank you.

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