AZ Republicans continue to take aim at DEI training with bill to outlaw it in government

Republicans in the state legislature are continuing their focus on culture wars, moving forward a bill that would ban public employees from being required to participate in diversity, equity and inclusion training. 

They want to do that by barring any governmental entity in Arizona from spending public funds on DEI programs, banning them from having a DEI office or coordinator and making it illegal for them to enter into or renew a contract with a company that has a DEI program. 

Senate Bill 1005, sponsored by Sen. Jake Hoffman, the leader of the far right Arizona Freedom Caucus, would additionally prevent public entities from promoting or adopting any “theory of unconscious or implicit bias, cultural appropriation, allyship, transgenderism, microaggressions, microinvalidation, group marginalization, anti-racism, systemic oppression, ethnocentrism, structural racism or inequity, social justice, intersectionality, neopronouns, inclusive language, heteronormativity, disparate impact, gender identity or theory, racial or sexual privilege or any related theory as the official position of the public entity.” 

In recent years, Republicans in Arizona and across the country have come after DEI initiatives, which are meant to make people of different races, genders, backgrounds and abilities feel welcome in the workplace. 

Last year, more than 20 states either considered or approved laws taking aim at DEI initiatives and programs, even as they remain popular, especially with Gen Z. 

The proposed legislation would empower employees who are forced to participate in DEI training to sue the public entity that employs them. 

The language of the bill specifies that it does not preclude public entities from offering sexual harassment training. 

Proponents of DEI say that it helps companies and organizations more quickly innovate with a diversity of ideas, makes for better team building because of increased empathy and drives improved business outcomes through greater reach to audience or customers. 

But others have found it difficult to deal with topics like structural racism, implicit bias and tolerance of others. Michele Banks, a dental hygienist who said she worked for a program through the Maricopa County Department of Health, told lawmakers on the House Government Committee on Feb. 28 that she supported the bill because of her uncomfortable experience with DEI training. 

Michele Banks shares, during a House Government Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2024, what she described as an uncomfortable experience with diversity, equity and inclusion training. Screenshot via

Banks said that she believes the bill will protect people from “wolves” who are pushing a “socialistic agenda,” adding that she thinks DEI training has turned into a propaganda tool. She said she participated in an online DEI training that featured a video that she said “made white men look like buffoons” compared to their colleagues of other races. 

Banks identified the other people in the video as Black, Hispanic and “Oriental.” While the term “Oriental” is not universally considered a slur, many people find it offensive because of its homogenization of a large and diverse region and because of its exoticism of various people and cultures in Asia. 

“It really did make me feel very uncomfortable,” she said, adding that, halfway through the training, she decided she wasn’t going to complete it. “I refuse to do this. This is offensive to me.” 

During the training, Banks said she and her coworkers were told to modify their behavior based on what other people thought about them and how other people thought they should act. 

“I’m only going to believe what God tells me about me,” she said, breaking into tears. 

But Banks told lawmakers that her bosses, who liked her work, were understanding and did not punish her for failing to complete the training. 

Banks called the training “noninclusive, nondiverse” and said it promoted groupthink. But when one of the Democratic lawmakers on the committee asked her what was “socialistic” about the training, Banks couldn’t point to anything specifically. 

Rep. Lydia Hernandez, D-Phoenix, told Banks that DEI training was meant to educate and provide information, not to force anyone to act a certain way. 

Republican Rep. Rachel Jones, of Tucson, said that Banks was lucky that her bosses allowed her to keep her job after refusing to complete DEI training, because she knew of other people who weren’t so lucky. She did not provide any specifics. 

Rep. Jevin Hodge said that, as a Black man, he would skip past any comments on race and move on to the people he believes will be unintentionally harmed by this bill: those with disabilities. Hodge has an uncle who is blind and also has cerebral palsy. 

“When we lean into policies like this, it’s very easy to play oppression Olympics,” he said, adding that these kinds of proposals, if they become law, can turn off big businesses from locating in Arizona, as well as large events that contribute to the economy, such as the Super Bowl. 

“I understand where this is coming from, but we need to realize the unintentional consequences,” he said. 

Hodge recommended that his colleagues instead have more conversations about the people who might be adversely impacted by this proposal. 

The lawmakers on the committee approved the bill by a vote of 5-4, with only Republicans voting in favor. It will move on for consideration by the full House of Representatives. 

The bill already passed through the Senate by a vote of 16-13, along party lines. 

Rep. John Gillette, R-Kingman, said he voted in favor of the bill because people should be hired because of competence, not because of race. 

Republican Rep. Tim Dunn, of Yuma, said that if public entities provide inclusion training, it should be inclusive of everyone, and that Banks’ training was not inclusive of her.

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