(CN) — After an outcry from advocates and state lawmakers, Texas officials on Tuesday reversed course on an earlier rule change that could have allowed social workers in the state to reject clients because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Earlier this month, a state regulatory board moved to strip certain nondiscrimination rules from a code of conduct for social workers. According to the Texas Tribune, the move was prompted by a request from the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott, whose office said the change was needed to conform with existing state law.
On Tuesday, an executive council that oversees the lower board voted unanimously to disregard the governor’s request and keep the nondiscrimination rules in place after all.
Ahead of the vote, members of the executive council acknowledged the widespread outrage the initial move had prompted.
“I’d like to apologize to the members of the public for the anguish caused by actions of the council perceived as hostile to the LGBTQ-plus community or to disabled persons,” said Gloria Canseco, a San Antonio dental clinic CEO who leads the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council.
“We’re deeply thankful to those who listened, heard and supported our intent to rectify the issue that people brought forward, despite the media distortion that followed,” she said.
The earlier move had been swiftly condemned by advocates for LGBTQ and disability communities and by social workers. The Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers urged officials to abandon the change, as did a number of Democratic state lawmakers.
The social workers’ group called the Tuesday vote “the right decision.”
“It would not have happened without the collective strength and unity of voices from social workers across the state and nation, countless advocacy groups, federal and state legislators, and all others voicing their grave concern against the changes,” the group said in a statement.
It’s not clear whether Abbott or other state leaders will challenge the council’s decision. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.
The council also plans to seek a legal opinion on the issue from the state’s Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton. As described during Tuesday’s meeting, the council will ask Paxton for an explanation on why it would not have the authority to keep the nondiscrimination rules in place.
Tim Brown, a council member and social worker himself, defended the earlier move in somewhat vague terms, suggesting it was the result of being “stuck in the proverbial rock and a hard place.” Still, he insisted the move was not meant to be discriminatory.
“When you’re in the moment and you have huge choices, you make the best decision you can,” he said. “No member of the social work board and no member of behavioral health council condone in any way the discrimination of persons who are living with disabilities or persons of the LGBTQ-plus community.”
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