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Bill to protect against hairstyle discrimination sent to Texas governor

State Rep. Ron Reynolds urges the passage of the CROWN Act during a press conference held by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus in the state Capitol on April 13.
Leila Saidane
/
The Texas Tribune
State Rep. Ron Reynolds urges the passage of the CROWN Act during a press conference held by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus in the state Capitol on April 13.

The CROWN Act would ensure protection for Texans who wear their hair in natural styles such as braids, locs, twists or knots.

A bill that would ban race-based hair discrimination in Texas workplaces, schools and housing policies is headed to the governor after the Senate approved the bill Friday. Texas would become the latest state to enact the law in a movement that was inspired by the experiences of two students near Houston who were told to cut their hair or be disciplined.

Senators voted 29-1 to send House Bill 567, by Democratic Rep. Rhetta Bowers of Rowlett, to Gov. Greg Abbott. A gubernatorial spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the governor supports the bill.

The bill mostly cruised through the legislative track after not getting a full chamber vote in the House during the 87th legislative session in 2021. This year, a House committee sent it to the full chamber nearly unanimously before representatives in the lower chamber overwhelmingly sent it to the Senate in April.

Versions of the legislation, called the CROWN Act — an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — have been adopted throughout the country as well as in Harris County, the state’s most populous, and the city of Austin.

During a hearing May 9 before the Senate’s State Affairs Committee, a series of witnesses testified about how they had experienced the race-based hair discrimination that the bill seeks to prohibit in the state’s education, labor and property codes.

Adjoa B. Asamoah, who co-founded a coalition that champions the CROWN Act, told committee members she conceptualized the law in 2018 to tackle this type of discrimination. She said she had put in work for many years, even before the case of the young men near Houston drew the attention of mainstream media to the problem.

“Preserving and protecting people’s civil, human and individual rights requires a thoughtful and intentional and collective approach,” Asamoah testified. “It impacts the upward mobility of individuals and families, and it has been the reason far too many children have missed school or had negative educational experiences.”

Asamoah added, “This issue warrants a legislative fix — the CROWN Act is exactly that.”

Enacting the proposal would ensure that all students get a fair chance to be learning in a classroom and not suspended because of how they wear their hair, State Board of Education member Aicha Davis, who represents Dallas and Tarrant counties, told the committee.

“There are students who aren’t even able to enroll in a Texas [school system] because of their natural hair,” Davis said. “Please make sure another one of our students doesn’t face this kind discrimination by passing the CROWN Act.”

De’Andre Arnold and his cousin can attest to the impact the discrimination can have on school-age youth. The two were told by administrators at Barbers Hill Independent School District in Mont Belvieu, east of Houston, to cut their long locs or be disciplined.

Both refused and sued the school district over its dress code in a matter that is not yet resolved.

“We have to show that there’s no room in society for people that are unaccepting of others and demonize others for the way they tend to live their lives,” said Arnold, a junior at Louisiana State University, in an interview earlier this year. “Legislation like this kind of tells people, ‘It’s OK to be how you are; be happy who you are; be proud.’”