Bill would prohibit hair discrimination in schools and workplaces
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
In a legislative session riven by cultural issues, the Oregon House found common ground protecting students.
House Bill 2935, known as The CROWN Act, passed 58-0 Wednesday. The bill prohibits discrimination based on religious dress and physical characteristics, such as hairstyles, that are historically associated with race. The bill applies to workplaces and schools, but most of the discussion centered on student participation in sports.
Rep. Janelle Bynum, the bill’s chief House sponsor, opened the debate by reading a letter from a Black Parkrose High School student who was told she had to remove beads from her hair to be allowed to compete in a volleyball game. According to news reports, sophomore Marissa Martino said she didn’t feel like herself after that.
“She was forced to internalize that her normal did not fit the acceptable standard for beauty,” Bynum said.
The bill was about the liberation of all Oregonians “to be who they are, to show up as they are” and the removal of barriers to students’ participation in sports, said Bynum, D-Clackamas.
The Oregon School Activities Association, under national guidelines, prohibits hard objects in competitors’ hair as a safety issue. Executive Director Peter Weber said when the Parkrose case arose that OSAA would explore its policies with the National Federation of State High School Associations as well as with students, school officials and communities.
On the House floor, Bynum, who is Black, said she had never encountered hair beads as a “safety” measure until she moved to predominantly White Oregon. The bill requires activity-by-activity considerations of sport-specific safety issues associated with cultural and religious accessories.
The bill is known as The CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Act because it is part of a national legislative effort to protect workers, particularly Black women, against discrimination for wearing their hair in natural or culturally appropriate styles.
Bynum said Black women have suffered measurable economic impact from hair discrimination, including being 1.5 times more likely to be sent home and 30% more likely to be handed corporate grooming policies because of their hair.
Rep. Andrea Valderrama, a David Douglas School Board member, was one of the bill’s many co-sponsors.
She noted the bill also prohibits school districts from being members of any voluntary organization that administers interscholastic activities if that organization does not have equity-focused policies that prohibit discrimination.
“Colleagues, you have before you a chance to right one of these lingering remnants of racism,” said Valderrama, D-Portland, before the vote.