Pa. lawmakers introduce bill banning hair discrimination

This story originally appeared on WITF.

A group of state lawmakers are calling for a ban on discriminating on the basis of how someone wears their hair.

The group, led by  Rep. Joanna McClinton (D, Delaware County) is sponsoring legislation called the CROWN Act. It would give Pennsylvanians the right to sue if that discrimination happened to them.

Right now, it isn’t specifically against state law.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D, Montgomery County) pointed to cases around the country where Black and Brown have been disciplined or excluded at work or school for wearing their hair in culturally expressive ways. He emphasized such discrimination needs to rooted out in Pennsylvania.

Last January, a Lebanon County Correctional Institute inmate, Eric McGill, was placed in solitary confinement for his refusal to cut his dreadlocks, something his religion did not allow him to do.

In the same year, a student named Andrew Johnson in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks before he could participate in a wrestling match.

In another case, Kittie Harris, a Black woman serving in the Navy, was disciplined for her hairstyle, despite her having cut it to Navy standards before departing for boot camp.

“Those were stories that achieved public attention. What about the thousands of stories where women and men are being discriminated against, are being negated at school and work?” Hughes said during a press conference held via Zoom.

Rep. McClinton, who is Black, says she felt pressured to keep her hair looking a certain way just to maintain her job as a prosecutor.

“I didn’t get braids my whole career. Not once,” she said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was a child or a high school student or a young person younger than what I was, and if you’ve never had to make those types of career decisions on how you choose to wear your hair, then aren’t you fortunate.”

Representative Summer Lee (D, Allegheny County) says lawmakers have to stop that from happening in Pennsylvania.

“It’s so important that we address the right and the dignity behind our natural appearance, and being able to show up as we naturally are,” Lee said.

Seven other states have banned the practice. Earlier this week, the U.S. House passed a similar measure to ban the practice nationwide.

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