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NASW is Failing LGBT Americans

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The year 2014 was filled with significant momentum towards a more equal nation for individuals identifying as LGBT. After dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, marriage equality became the law in 19 additional states. In a matter of months, more states ushered in marriage equality than in the entire history of the nation. By the end of 2014, a total of 35 states and the District of Columbia were all allowing same-sex individuals to marry the partner they love.

The momentum for change was welcomed by President Obama and the Administration, who changed policies and enacted protections to ensure that married same-sex couples could file taxes jointly, receive Social Security and Veteran’s Administration benefits from their spouse, and take advantage of the nearly 1,200 federal protections and benefits of marriage. The President also issued an Executive Order protecting all 14 million federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With this new law, the President advanced the most significant protections for LGBT individuals in the history of our nation. To help craft these protections, the President worked hand-in-hand with major civil rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others. Groups advocating on behalf of LGBT Americans were offered an unprecedented seat at the table, helping to shape significant civil rights protections for millions of Americans. Noticeably absent from these efforts was the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The NASW is the national organization that represents the profession of social work, a profession founded on the core mission of advancing social justice and ending discrimination. Embedded throughout the NASW’s Code of Ethics is a clearly outlined ethical responsibility for all social workers to actively engage in social change efforts. In fact, the first two guiding ethical principles of the profession are to “help people in need and to address social problems” and to “challenge social injustice.” But is the NASW practicing what they preach? Have they been on the forefront by fighting for rights of LGBT individuals? Have they led the public discourse on the matter? Have they rallied social workers together to fight for advancement of LGBT rights?

Not in the least. In my opinion, they’ve done something much worse: they’ve remained silent. With all of the advancements in the rights of LGBT individuals last year, there were no statements released by NASW commending any of them. I combed every Facebook post made by NASW in 2014, not a single one of them pertained to LGBT Americans. When I asked the Florida chapter to release a statement on the state becoming the latest to allow same-sex marriages, I was directed to this statement by NASW released 11 years ago. An 11 year old statement is what we call advocacy? Is this how our profession fights for the rights of all people? While the President was passing the first and only anti-discrimination law in our nation’s history, the NASW called out of work. While countless federal courts struck down discriminatory bans on gay rights, NASW was taking a vacation. When asked to release a statement, NASW was on lunch break.

My point in writing this article is simple: it’s time for NASW to get back to work. Social injustices continue to be common place for individuals identifying as LGBT. Opponents continue to fight for laws aimed at disenfranchising and discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The rights of individuals and the advancement of our society depend on the hard work and relentless voices of strong advocates. There is no reason NASW couldn’t be the strongest social advocacy organization in the nation, if it so chose.

Equal rights for LGBT Americans can and will be achieved in my lifetime. As a social worker, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all individuals as part of my core commitment to the profession. The question is: will NASW be joining me?

NASW Florida released the following statement on Facebook: “NASW-FL congratulates the couples getting married today as we celebrate Florida becoming the 36th state to achieve marriage equality!”

*Update:

Valarie Arendt, member of NASW-NC, posted a response on Facebook stating,

This is 100% not true. NASW has published 9 articles in 2014 alone on LGBTQ issues and the importance of social work support for this community. Just because NASW didn’t use Facebook to communicate their efforts doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The author of this article should have done his research before making such claims.

Valerie, thank you for your comment. I did review the website that you linked to in your comment prior to writing the article. The website lists 2 resources for the year 2014 (“Paying an Unfair Price ” and “A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming”). The first article was “sponsored by NASW” and the later is a document from SAMHSA that was “endorsed by NASW”. If you can send me a link with the 9 articles released in 2014 I will review them and edit my article if needed. I spent quite a bit of time on NASW’s website researching this issue.

The main take-away from my article is not that NASW has never broached LGBT issues, it’s their deafening silence and failure to rally social workers into action when the issue reached a critical turning point over the last year. That’s why I combed their Facebook posts and press releases for the last year. I was looking for statements of support for LGBT advancements, statements condoning discriminatory policies, or calls to action for the social work community. None of which happened.

Endorsing articles is great, but my article is saying that they aren’t doing enough to advocate and promote social change for the LGBT population. In contrast, the APA was constantly engaging their professional community and actively seeking opportunities to advance social justice for the LGBT population. They also don’t hide their many resources on an obscure part of their website. They embrace the work they’re doing with the LGBT populations. Social workers are agents of change.

Editor’s note: The National Association of Social Workers has a national office with chapters in each state as well as US Territories. There have been several amicus briefs (friend of the court filings) on behalf of same sex individuals in various states.

Paul C. Milford, MSW is a social worker specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families. Milford has a passion for helping others find the keys to their own success and draws from a variety of therapeutic modalities to help them do so. Milford received his Master of Social Work degree from the University of South Florida. Milford's clinical areas of interest include behavior management, depression, chronic disease management, relationship issues, school performance, and anxiety within the individual and family systems.

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