Public schools and employers will be banned from discriminating against hairstyles associated with a person’s race, under a bill now headed to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.
The Oregon Senate on Wednesday passed House Bill 2935, known as the CROWN Act, by a 28-1 vote. If signed by Brown, the bill 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.
HB 2935 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.
“What strikes me is that those creating problems for other people regarding their hairstyles are basically stuck in middle school or high school, believing that they must criticize people based on how they wear their hair,” said state Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who helped carry the bill on the Senate floor. “Unfortunately that adolescent approach in many cases is not limited to name calling or teasing.”
According to a coalition working to pass laws like HB 2935, Black women are more likely to be sent home or be subject to formal grooming policies because of their hair. 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 group. Other states and Congress are considering the matter.
The proposal was first introduced in Oregon in 2020, when state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, sponsored a version of the bill. It died along with scores of other bills amid a Republican walkout that year.
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 lone lawmaker to vote against the proposal, in either chamber, was Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction. Robinson did not explain his vote or speak against the bill on Wednesday.