NASW Remains an Advocate for LGBTQ Rights

By Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, LCSW

Kathryn Conley Wehrmann

As I write this column, cases are being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that will determine whether civil rights laws should apply to LGBTQ people.

Today, it seems appropriate to write about how our association fights for social justice on behalf of its members and the individuals, groups and communities they serve.

I was invited to participate on a plenary panel devoted to how health professional associations are supporting LGBTQ health equity, at the 37th GLMA Annual Conference on LGBTQ Health. Counterparts from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Psychological Association joined me on the panel.

The GLMA conference is the premier scientific gathering devoted to LGBTQ health issues and concerns. NASW was asked to join the panel this year because—to quote GLMA Executive Director Hector Vargas: “NASW has been at the forefront of remarkable support among health professional associations for LGBTQ health equity and we hope you will join us to share the incredible work the NASW has accomplished.”

I was well prepared for the panel by Mel Wilson, NASW senior policy consultant; and Rita Webb, NASW senior policy associate, who are actively engaged in work on LGBTQ issues. In order to amplify the benefit of their time and expertise, I am sharing some of the efforts your professional association has made on behalf of LGBTQ health equity.

Our Code of Ethics sets the stage for a focus on social justice and dignity and worth of the person. Our policy statements published in “Social Work Speaks,” 11th Edition, include specific statements that address LGBTQ concerns by reaffirming a commitment to human rights and freedom, and opposition to all discrimination on the basis of gender identity and of gender expression regardless of assigned sex at birth.

NASW encourages passage of legislation protecting the rights, legal benefits, and privileges of all gender identities and expressions, and the repeal of laws and discriminatory practices that impede individuals in their identification with, and their expression of, the gender that matches their sense of themselves in all areas of the public arena, especially employment, health care, education and housing.

Working from our professional value base and our policy statements, NASW:

  • Serves as a member of the Equality Act Task Force, which focuses on legislation that seeks to provide full constitutional protections for LGBTQ individuals. The main premise of the act is that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 omitted civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community.
  • Submitted written comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that opposed an ACA rule change allowing health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ individuals based on religious exemptions.
  • Submitted comments to the Office for Civil Rights.
  • Joined the fight against so-called religious exemption exclusions that allow public and private agencies, providers, and businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community based on religious beliefs of the discriminator(s).
  • Submitted comments for the Federal Register regarding Veterans Affairs “Notice of Petition for Rule Making and Request for Comments-Exclusion of Gender Alterations from the Medical Benefits Package.”
  • Integrates advocacy for LGBT health equity across NASW through Legal Defense Fund amicus briefs, NASW Press journal “Health and Social Work,” NASW Advocates magazine, NASW social media outlets, webinars, national and chapter conferences, virtual forums, and policy issue briefs.
  • Serves as a steering committee member alongside GLMA on the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence-Futures Without Violence.
  • Supports legislation that seeks to protect prospective LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents from being discriminated against based on religious beliefs of private and public foster care/adoption agencies.
  • Works with the Family Equality Council and Every Child Deserves a Family campaign to lobby for passage of this legislation.
  • Had its CEO participate on both a House and Senate panel for a Capitol Hill briefing in support of Every Child Deserves a Family Act and in support of the need to promote nondiscrimination policies and legislation for LGBTQ foster/adoptive parents.
  • Serves as a partner organization to address the bio-psychosocial needs of at-risk LGBTQ youth, and signed onto a statement of principles developed through the collaboration.
  • Has voiced longstanding opposition to conversion therapy.
  • Collaborates with The Human Rights Campaign’s Project Thrive, which works to ensure that at-risk LBGTQ youth have access to essential services.

NASW is our voice in Washington and throughout the country. Help keep our association strong by maintaining your membership, or by becoming a member today.

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