A bill to ban hairstyle discrimination was unanimously passed by the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, following an emotional public hearing on the positive potential impacts of the legislation.
The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act amends the county’s existing anti-discrimination laws to expand the definition of race, adding hair texture and styling to a list of protected traits. The bill bans discrimination against braids, locks, Afros, curls, twists and any other hairstyles worn by people of color to preserve the natural texture of their hair.
“This bill will say with a resounding voice that discrimination on the basis of natural hair is race discrimination,” said Council Member Will Jawando, who co-sponsored the bill with Council President Nancy Navarro, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Montgomery is the first county in the country to pass legislation banning discrimination on the basis of hairstyle, according to Jawando. Similar laws have been passed in California and New York, the first two states to define hairstyling and texture as a fundamental characteristic of race.
More than a dozen residents spoke in favor of the bill at a public hearing on Oct. 15, describing the societal pressures often placed on women of color to change their natural hair texture.
“I have had to make my own choices on how to wear my hair based on the audience,” said Nicole Drew, president of the Montgomery County Commission for Women.
From a young age, Drew added, she was conditioned to view only certain hairstyles as “professional and well-groomed.” She used chemical relaxers for years to straighten her hair before growing concerned that they could have long-lasting effects on her health.
Other residents said they had experienced greater scrutiny at work and negative comments from managers for wearing their hair in natural styles.
Jawando said he was inspired to introduce the bill after visiting hair salons with his wife and realizing how many women of color changed their hair texture out of a sense of necessity, not choice.
Historically, many black and Latina women have straightened or relaxed their hair so it appears to have a smoother texture — a trend that emerged from decades of racism and beauty standards that often exclude women of color, Jawando said when he introduced the bill in September.
“We shouldn’t have to question whether our natural selves are enough,” he added during Tuesday’s meeting. “Six months ago, my 5-year-old daughter came to me and said, ‘Daddy, I want my hair to be straight like the pretty girls on TV.’”
As the popularity of natural hairstyles has grown, more employees have reported discriminatory workplace practices or pressure to adhere to certain standards of appearance. In 2010, an Alabama woman named Chastity Jones attracted nationwide attention for suing a company that required her to cut off her dreadlocks as a condition of employment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lost both cases it filed on behalf of Jones. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
That makes local and state laws even more vital, Jawando said. The CROWN Act applies to all employers in Montgomery County, and makes hairstyle discrimination illegal in public accommodations such as group homes and taxis.
Under the bill, people who experience discrimination because of their hairstyle can seek up to $5,000 in civil penalties through the county’s Office of Human Rights.