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How Philly could sensitize the Mummers

They could wind up in the same training attended by porny prosecutors, a Philadelphia Eagle and every police officer on the city’s payroll.

David Hall is willing to accept that maybe the Mummers didn’t intend to hurt anyone when a group of them mocked Caitlin Jenner on New Year’s Day. But he also wants them to know the skit they called satirical was off-base.

“Their intent may not have been to be hurtful, but I ask they take into mind that the effect has been,” Hall, president of the Innovative Learning Institute that offers training in diversity inclusion, said. “They’re all working hard, and to talk about how homophobic and transphobic they are for a month after it, I don’t see how that helps the Mummers achieve what they want to.”

City leaders have fielded questions for days about if and how to reform the Mummers. Stricter rules could be put in place. The city will consider instituting a vetting process for Mummer themes, though they could find themselves on tricky first amendment ground. But the third idea is a time-honored tradition used often after an incident of intolerance happens: Sensitivity training.

Three prosecutors from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office underwent it after being embroiled in the statewide Porngate scandal. Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper went to sensitivity training after he was caught on video saying the N-word. The PPA and the City Controller’s Office have had it and every police officer has received some form of it.

Why some say the Mummers need training

The annual Philadelphia Mummers parade has dominated local headlines for days and was covered on a national scale after several instances of behavior that’s been called everything from satire to hate speech. This comes after the Mummers have strutted through Philadelphia for decades and every year, as Mayor Jim Kenney says, “there’s always that one dumb thing.”

This year, one Mummers brigade went with a Mexican theme and dressed all of its members — including children — in brownface. Another group went with a skit that had a Caitlin Jenner theme, mocking the woman who recently came out as transgender. One of the members of that group was caught on video holding a sign and screaming “fuck the gays.” Later, a gay man reported drunk Mummers were saying gay slurs while they hit him in the face.

Controversy surrounding the Mummers dates back to the 1960’s when some groups were known for wearing blackface during the parade. NAACP leaders in the city fought it, and by the mid-60’s blackface had been banned from the Mummers parade, largely because public money partially funded the event. Despite being banned, blackface and brownface has made plenty of appearances at the parade over the years.

Kenney, a former Mummer who was inaugurated as mayor Monday, has answered questions about the racism and homophobia that has plagued the parade and what the city may do to foster diversity in the largely white male tradition. The new mayor came out strong against the behavior, saying “the issue for me is — the Mummers parade is such a Philadelphia thing and to have that kind of negative press… it’s just not good for the city.”

According to The Inquirer, Kenney asked Rue Landau, executive director of the city’s Human Relations Commission, and Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, to handle looking at the Mummers parade and working toward solutions that foster inclusivity and understanding.

Among the solutions: Mummer sensitivity training.

What ‘sensitivity training’ entails

Professional Development Coordinator Nikki Hatza travels to businesses, schools and organizations across the region as a representative of the Mazzoni Center, a Philadelphia health care provider serving the LGBT community. Her main job? Helping companies get sensitized.

When Hatza enters a room of people who are usually mandated to receive her training session, she likes to start out with an activity that gets people thinking about their own biases, whether it’s with regard to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or something else entirely. Hall, who trained the Philadelphia Parking Authority in 2012, said he starts out with something similar.

“The nature of privilege is that you don’t see it,” he said. “So I start with things they would understand.”

He tells people in the workshop to imagine it’s their anniversary. Most couples can pick a restaurant based on the food they want to eat — a romantic spot where they can sit down for dinner, hold hands and “make googly eyes” at each other. Non-heterosexual and non-gender conforming couples may instead pick restaurants based on which ones they’d feel comfortable being at because it’s been proven open and inclusive.

So after getting people thinking about their own privilege, Hatza said she usually delves into the education portion of the session that largely focuses on what it means to be LGBT. She also reviews language that helps students understand which terms and phrases are affirming and which aren’t. Hall used the example of the word “tranny” — a word that can be offensive to transgender people, but a word many aren’t ever told is offensive in nature.

From there, Hatza said her training sessions will often conclude with a portion about application that has learners use new language and information to interact with LGBT members of the community in mock situations.

Both Hatza and Hall said their training sessions aren’t one-size-fits-all and are largely tailored to the groups they’re speaking with. As Hall pointed out, staff at a Fortune 500 company would receive training different than teachers at an elementary school.

Does sensitivity training work?

Hatza said that without fail, every time she conducts a workshop, someone tells her they learned they were using language that they had no idea was offensive in the first place.

“People don’t know what they don’t know,” she said. “People think they know what they want the training to be about… but some people don’t even realize what they need sensitivity training on.”

Some studies have claimed that diversity inclusion training doesn’t actually foster long-term change in workplace culture. Others say it’s used by companies simply to avoid lawsuits down the road.

Hall and Hatza both reject that and said that it depends on the type of training offered, the competence of the instructor and the willingness of the people in the class to learn and apply. Hatza said feedback after her workshops is positive and she rarely encounters people who are truly bigoted or aren’t willing to learn about how they can improve the way they interact with others, whether it’s with regard to race, sexual orientation or anything else.

So if it can work for small businesses, large corporations, schools and organizations, should the Mummers be subject to sensitivity or diversity inclusion training?

“They might benefit,” Hall said. “There are some conversations that need to be had. And professionally facilitated.”

Billy Penn reporter Mark Dent contributed to this article.

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