Hamilton County school board member Thurman under fire after posting rape joke online

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Rhonda Thurman listens to the speakers at a Hamilton County school board meeting on Oct. 20. Thurman drew criticism Wednesday over a Feb. 7 Facebook post in which she made a joke about gang rape.

Hamilton County school board member Rhonda Thurman, R-Hixson, has come under fire after posting a gang rape joke on her Facebook page.

The post relates to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, which occurred just days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon. During his speech, Biden promised to protect America against Chinese threats to its sovereignty and singled out President Xi Jinping.

"Joe Biden saying he showed China how tuff he is, reminds of a joke I heard years ago," Thurman wrote.

Thurman went on to share a joke about a man and a woman walking on the beach when the woman was raped by a gang as the man concerned himself with other matters.

Thurman then went on to refer to a story Biden has told about standing up to a gang member named Corn Pop when he was a young man.

"Yep, that is Tough Man Joe!" Thurman wrote in her Feb. 7 posting. "Obviously, Xi Jinping never heard about Corn Pop or he would never have sent that balloon over here."

Thurman's post made the rounds on social media Wednesday with Twitter users weighing in, many critical of her post. Some called for her resignation, saying such stories are inappropriate for people in leadership positions, especially when it comes to schools.

Thurman said in a phone call people need to "get over it."

"You people need to find something to do," Thurman said. "I have told this joke in open meetings. This is so pathetic. Anybody that has a problem with this can get over it. They are so ignorant."

Thurman said she was almost victim of a rape, and though she doesn't find rape funny, she can appreciate a joke.

"As a school board member, I still have a sense of humor," Thurman said. "You have to, to be able to be on the school board."

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, who also took to Twitter about the matter, said the joke was inappropriate.

"I mean, this joke was so distasteful," Johnson said in a phone call. "I don't care who you tell the joke about, but we have a school board member posting a rape joke on social media."

Johnson, who is a retired Knox County Schools special education teacher, said school officials must lead by example.

"As a teacher, we always struggled to be role models for kids," Johnson said. "I certainly wouldn't as a representative of the entire school system of Hamilton County put just really filthy stuff out there."

She said while elected officials are often publicly criticized whenever they express their opinions, Thurman's post went too far.

"I think elected officials are people, and they can express their opinions," Johnson said in a phone call. "But distasteful, really hideous and ugly and abusive jokes, that's just not somewhere I would go, especially if I was representing the children of Hamilton County."

Hamilton County Board of Education Chairwoman Tiffanie Robinson, an independent from Chattanooga, said officials are further reviewing the post.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press also reached out to school district administration for a statement but was referred to Thurman.

"These appear to be the comments of an individual board member on their personal social media page," district spokesman Steve Doremus said in an email. "I would refer you to that individual for any comment."

This is not the first time Thurman has received public backlash. In August, she was quoted by an online news outlet in an article headlined "Hispanic students who speak little or no English are overwhelming county schools."

"It is mind-boggling to me the burden it puts on the schools, the teachers and the taxpayers," Thurman was quoted as saying.

In October, community members and teachers flooded the school board meeting to defend Hispanic students and ask Thurman to resign.

The incident received national attention after CNN wrote that Thurman's comments were fueling racist rhetoric in the community.

February's board meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at cnesbitt@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327.