Oregon would become the latest state to prohibit public schools and employers from discriminating against hairstyles associated with race, under a bill that passed the state House unanimously Wednesday.
Following a 58-0 vote in support, the bill now heads to the state Senate.
House Bill 2935, known as the CROWN Act, would expand existing laws against discrimination to explicitly include “physical characteristics that are historically associated with race,” including hair styles such as braids, locs and twists.
The bill is part of a national campaign that emerged after a Black high school wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut off his dreadlocks before competing in 2018. Similar situations have emerged since, including a local incident in March where a volleyball player at Portland’s Parkrose High School was required to cut beads from her hair in order to play.
The stories shed light on the problem of disparate treatment for Black people who wear their hair naturally or in certain styles. According to a coalition working to pass the policy, Black women are more likely to be sent home or be subject to formal grooming policies because of their hair.
“Oregon does not currently protect people from race-based hair discrimination even if the hairstyle is part of someone’s racial identity,” said state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, a chief sponsor of the bill. “This means that Black people can be denied opportunities for employment or professional advancement without consequence.”
Bynum, who is Black, has spoken at length about negative experiences she and her children have had related to their hair. The representative said she felt pressured to straighten her hair during her first run for office, in order to be put on an even playing field with her opponent. She has said her daughter at one point requested being put at the back of the line in school because children kept playing with her hair.
“This fascination but stigmatization of our natural hair is what we’re trying to get at in this bill,” Bynum said during a hearing in February.
Aside from expanding discrimination laws to protect hairstyles, HB 2935 also requires public school districts to include policies allowing students to wear religious clothing in competitive sports. The law, however, says districts can balance hairstyle and clothing accommodation with health and safety needs.
The name of the CROWN Act stands for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.” Versions of the bill have passed in nine states, including California and Washington, according to the coalition pushing the policy. Other states and Congress are considering the matter.
Bynum first proposed the legislation in 2020, but it was scuttled alongside nearly every other bill from that session, after Republican lawmakers fled the state to block a bill to cap carbon dioxide emissions.
Now it appears certain to pass, in a year when equity and racial justice have been top of mind for many lawmakers. Both Republicans and Democrats spoke in favor of the policy on the House floor Wednesday.
“HB 2935 helps our state’s laws catch up to the diversity that we are already seeing in our communities,” said state Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland. “Oregon is stronger because of it, and we should celebrate and welcome it at any opportunity.”
State Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, said her biracial grandchildren helped solidify her support.
“My five-year-old granddaughter for the very first time has her hair in dreadlocks with beads,” Levy said. “For this very purpose I will be voting yes.”