Hairstyles including braids, locks, and Afros would be protected under an anti-discrimination bill the Montgomery County Council proposed Tuesday.
The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act would expand the definition of race under the existing legislation to include hair texture and natural styling, said Council Member Will Jawando, a co-sponsor of the bill.
By amending that definition, discrimination on the basis of those hairstyles would become illegal for Montgomery County employers and in public accommodations, including group homes and taxis.
“It’s both a legal remedy for people who have been discriminated against and a statement that we’re accepting the natural beauty of those styles,” Jawando said.
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.
Protective styles — sometimes referred to as natural styles — are those achieved without heat or chemical relaxers, said Devyawn Matthews, a stylist with Tease Hair Salon in Silver Spring. She’s noticed an increase in requests for many of those styles, which are often easier to maintain and cause less damage to hair.
“Your hair is at its strongest point when it’s natural,” Matthews said. “Some women don’t want to relax their hair because it breaks easier, so I see a lot more people asking for waves or braids.”
But historically and currently, many black and Latino women straighten or chemically relax their hair so it appears to have a smoother texture, Jawando said in an interview after the bill was presented. Weaves and wigs are used to achieve the same effect.
Those styles, he added, have a long history in systemic racism and beauty standards that often exclude women of color.
“I have a wife and three daughters, and every time I go to the salon with them, I find women who have acquiesced to the idea that part of living in this society is changing their natural hair,” Jawando said. “So, this is also a way to make a statement that they don’t have to do that to be accepted.”
There’s also a growing awareness of the long-term impacts of artificially treated hair, Matthews said, including hair loss.
A recent episode of the Netflix show “Queer Eye” addressed a client with traction alopecia, a specific form of hair loss that predominantly affects black women and is thought to result from weaves or wigs attached too tightly to the scalp.
But as natural hairstyles increase in prevalence, there has been more protective legislation amid reports of workplace policies that discriminate against them.
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.
Local laws can provide more protection for people of color — especially women — who encounter similar discrimination, Jawando wrote in a memo on the legislation. The bill closely resembles similar measures passed in California and New York, the first two states to prohibit discrimination based on natural hairstyles and textures.
The bill would not affect Montgomery County Public Schools, whose policies are determined by the state and the Montgomery County school board. Jawando contacted two school board members on Monday morning to recommend implementing a separate policy.
Derek Turner, a spokesman for the school system, agreed that discrimination based on natural or protective hairstyles was unacceptable. But a prohibition on that kind of bias is already covered by an existing nondiscrimination, equity, and cultural proficiency policy passed by the Board of Education, he wrote in an email.
Jawando also plans to ask Montgomery College to implement a similar rule.
The county would be one of the first local jurisdictions to implement a nondiscrimination policy based on hairstyle. Similar legislation has been introduced in Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan and Illinois, the council staff wrote in a press release.
A public hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m.