Learn about the CROWN Act movement, experiences from Connecticut lawmakers about facing hair discrimination, and what is happening on a federal level.
Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut signed the CROWN Act bill on Friday, March 5. The CROWN Act is short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, and it seeks to end hair discrimination that Black women often face in school and in the workplace.
Connecticut was the 8th state to pass the CROWN Act. It joins California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, and Virginia in enacting this historic legislation. The law is also being seated in 19 other states across the country.
Let’s dive into the background of the movement, how it came to pass in Connecticut, and what’s happening federally.
The CROWN Act was created in 2019, and is led by the CROWN Coalition — a group of organizations that includes:
- National Urban League
- Color of Change
- Western Center on Law and Poverty
The mission of this movement is to ensure “protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.”
Denial of employment and education opportunities for Black women are real. A Dove study found they are 1.5 times more likely to experience being sent home from work due to their hair. In addition, 80% of Black women are more likely than White women to agree with the statement, “I have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.”
80% of Black women are more likely than White women to agree with the statement, “I have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.”
States with existing laws
In July 2019, California became the first state to enact a CROWN Act, and New York followed soon after.
In 2018, Andrew Johnson — a high school wrestler in New Jersey — was forced to cut his dreadlocks in order to participate in a wrestling match. His case inspired New Jersey to pass the CROWN Act in December 2019.
Virginia then became the 4th state to pass such legislation in March 2020 that went into effect in July 2020. Colorado, Washington State, and Maryland also have CROWN Act laws in place.
Connecticut lawmakers’ experiences
The state’s House of Representatives voted 139 to 9 for the CROWN Act. Last year, the measure passed at the committee level, but was shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have been one of those Black women,” Rep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat who is co-chair of the legislature’s labor committee, recently stated. “We have to conform to what Europeans have designated as acceptable, what they’ve coined in some of our natural hairstyles as being untidy, unprofessional. This is why we’re pushing for this legislation this year.”
During the debate between Connecticut lawmakers before the law passed, Rep. Bobby Gibson shared his experience with hair discrimination. He is a Bloomfield Democrat who is vice chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, and he frequently wears his long hair in a ponytail.
“I do not possess a haircut or hairstyle that is common. But the hairstyle that I have has not held me back as an educator or a lawmaker.”
“There have been times when kids haven’t been allowed to go to proms, haven’t been allowed to participate in athletic events … because of something as simple as hair,” Gibson said. “I do not possess a haircut or hairstyle that is common. But the hairstyle that I have has not held me back as an educator or a lawmaker.”
Push for federal bill
A federal CROWN Act could ban hair discrimination all 50 states. On September 21, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act. It then moved forward to be considered by the Senate.
Sen. Cory Booker reintroduced the CROWN Act bill in the Senate on March 27, 2021. Although there is existing federal law that prohibits some forms of hair discrimination as a type of racial or national origin discrimination, some federal courts have narrowly construed those protections in a way that allows workplaces, federally funded institutions, and schools to discriminate against people of African descent who wear certain types of natural or protective hairstyles.
Booker has stated, “No one should be harassed, punished, or fired for the beautiful hairstyles that are true to themselves and their cultural heritage.”
Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “Going From Best Intentions to Best Practices for DEI.”