Hairstyle discrimination ban passes in Colorado House


Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048. - COURTESY REP. LESLIE HEROD
  • Courtesy Rep. Leslie Herod
  • Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048.
Over the objections of five Republicans from El Paso County, a bill aiming to ban hairstyle discrimination passed the Colorado House on Feb. 12.

House Bill 1048, also known as the "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act" or CROWN Act, clarifies that protection from discrimination in state law extends to people choosing to wear certain hairstyles in the context of public schools, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising.

This would include protection from discrimination regarding hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles "commonly or historically associated with race," such as "braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps."

The bill — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora — passed the Colorado House by a vote of 42 to 21, with two legislators excused (including Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain). Included among those who voted against the bill were El Paso County Republicans Terri Carver, Tim Geitner, Larry Liston, Shane Sandridge and Dave Williams.

Before the bill's second reading Feb. 10, Williams spoke on the House floor and urged legislators to oppose it.

"I wholeheartedly agree that racial discrimination is unacceptable... [but] I would encourage everyone here to at least vote your conscience and realize that perhaps there is a need for this, but also recognizing at the same time that this might be redundant or duplicitous," Williams said, suggesting that laws already exist to prevent such discrimination.

Rep. Herod argued the bill was, in fact, needed.

"I want to be clear that we're not just adding something to law just for the fun of it," she said in response, referencing a federal appeals court's decision in a case that was brought by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Alabama woman whose job offer was rescinded because she would not cut off her natural locs. The court ruled in 2016 that the company had not violated the Civil Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 declined to hear the woman's case.

"In order to have protection for women and men and people living outside of the gender binary who are of color, who have hair growing ... a certain way and not be asked to cut it or straighten it, we need these protections in law," Herod said.

On Feb. 13, the CROWN Act was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Affairs Committee, where it's scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 24.

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew Cherry, the director of Academy Award-winning short film "Hair Love," called attention to state bills banning hairstyle discrimination. New York, New Jersey and California have passed similar laws already, with additional bans under consideration in 22 states including Colorado.

"The CROWN Coalition, co-founded by Dove in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law, has taken a leading role in organizing support for the bill around the country," a statement on HB1048's passage notes.

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