VOL. 124 | NO. 193 | Thursday, October 1, 2009
Tenn. Legislative Staffers Laud Diversity Training
By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) – Tennessee legislative staffers who attended mandatory diversity training say it was worthwhile and they plan to adhere to what they learned.
State Rep. John Deberry, a Memphis Democrat, held two diversity training sessions this month following the revelation in June that a Tennessee legislative staffer sent a racist e-mail about President Barack Obama from her state computer.
The incident drew national attention and many wanted the woman fired. But legislative leaders agreed with Deberry’s proposal for mandatory diversity training for all state legislative staffers.
Lance Frizzell, a spokesman for Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, attended the second session this week. He said the five hours of training was “time well spent” and that “it was a positive experience for everybody that was there.”
Staffer Lynette Morris said she liked a scenario Deberry used in encouraging staffers to be sensitive to one another. He said discussions at the family dinner table that may seem appropriate may be inappropriate if heard somewhere else, Morris noted.
“You have different ways of doing things and ways that you can say things within your family that you wouldn’t say outside,” Morris said.
Titled “Historical Keepsake Photo,” the e-mail forwarded by the Tennessee staffer displayed an official portrait of every president except Obama, who was shown as a caricature with wide eyes on a field of black.
Sherri Goforth, a legislative aide for Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Diane Black, said she got the e-mail from an acquaintance with no political ties and should have deleted it instead of forwarding it to other Republican legislative staffers.
Goforth, who is white, apologized and received a letter of reprimand. Critics said the punishment wasn’t strong enough, but Deberry, who is also chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus, said at the time the cause of the incident should be further examined.
Deberry said Goforth, who is currently on sick leave, has suffered long enough for her actions.
“It’s time to move on,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about this every day. The next step is for folks to think about what we’ve talked about ... and change some behaviors.”
Tennessee, like many states, has for years provided workshops about sexual harassment but none on cultural and racial sensitivity.
California is believed to be the only other state that mandates diversity training for legislative staffers and lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Tennessee’s diversity training isn’t mandatory for state lawmakers, but Deberry welcomed them to attend. About 250 legislative staffers participated in the two sessions, which were similar to training Deberry’s marketing firm gave to some clients before he became a legislator.
Deberry, who provided the training pro bono, said he and legislative officials are creating a discrimination policy that staffers will be expected to continue to follow.
“I think our awareness level will be a little better,” said House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton. “We’re a good group here, and everybody wants to work together.”
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