PHOENIX – The Arizona Senate voted this week to outlaw diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state and local governments but not before Tempe and Queen Creek senators aired out their differences about the proposal.
Saying he was doing what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted, Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, won a party-line vote for the ban, which also eliminates the use of government money for any such program.
It also forbids a public agency from requiring workers to engage in those programs, allowing those employees to sue.
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said the bill and Hoffman are missing the point.
It is through "diversity, equity and inclusion programs that institutions are beginning to investigate and correct structural roadblocks" that limit access to resources and opportunities, he said.
Hoffman told colleagues he is not against the ideas. What he opposes, he said, is what these programs include, ideas Hoffman argued actually work against the concepts of inclusion and equality.
"That's a problem,'' he said.
"The bill says we don't want public entities influencing the composition of their workforce based on race,'' Hoffman said.
He then quoted a line from King about children living "in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.''
"This bill seeks to do what MLK Jr. advocated for,'' he said.
Mendez said proponents fail to consider that everyone is not coming from the same starting point or born with the same advantages.
"For those of us who did not win the cultural lottery, much of one's life outcome can still be predicted by the biases towards race, class, ability and identity,'' said Mendez, whose district includes parts of Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix.
"Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are only set out to help us understand and prepare our citizens for what it means to live in a diverse and inclusive society,'' he said.
"It's through these diversity, equity and inclusion programs that institutions are beginning to investigate and correct structural roadblocks that limit the access to the resources and opportunities that improve lives and communities for everyone.''
As approved, SB 1694 has a laundry list of what would be off limits.
For example, programs could not describe or expose systems, relations of power, privilege or subordination on the basis of race, sex, color, gender, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. Nor could they describe methods to dismantle or oppose those systems.
Also off limits would be advancing any theories of a host of theories ranging from unconscious or implicit bias and systemic oppression to inclusive language and neopronouns.
That last category includes words that go beyond the traditional "he'' and "she'' which, by their nature, identify the gender of the person to whom it refers. Instead it includes pronouns that do not express gender like "ze'' and "zir.''
Also outlawed would be concepts of "anti-racism.'' Hoffman describes that as the idea that "the only answer to past racial discrimination is present discrimination.''
All of that, he said, goes to what he said is the goal of SB 1694 to treat people as equals.
Mendez, however, said all that ignores what he believes are the real intent of these programs. That, he said, seeks to educate that there are people in society who have not necessarily been treated equitably - and that something should be done about that.
"But this proposal attempts to broaden the cultural wars, claiming that equity and inclusion and diversity is racist because it doesn't put white, male, heterosexual, conservative views on a pedestal to remain unquestioned,'' he said. "It should not be our job taking apart programs that are helping our citizens work together and work toward progress.''
The measure heads to the Republican-controlled House.