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Virginia becomes first southern US state to ban hair discrimination

State passes measure after incidents of employees fired and children disciplined over hair texture and type sparked outcry

By Kenya Evelyn, The Guardian

Virginia has become the first southern US state to ban hair discrimination based on racial identifiers including hair texture and hair type.

It is the fourth US state to pass such a measure. It had already passed the Virginia senate and house of delegates unanimously last month.

Advocates say the law will put an end to punitive actions that have disproportionately affected African Americans, both in schools and the workforce. Instances of disciplined children, or fired employees over dreadlocks, braids or afros have sparked outrage in recent years.

On Wednesday, Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, signed HB 1514, which also bans discrimination based on “protective hairstyles such as braids, locks and twists”.

Northam noted the bill is “pretty simple”, arguing that any child sent home from school because of a ban on “hairstyles associated with a particular race is discrimination”.

“This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia,” he said. “This bill will make our commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all.”

A Texas school district came under fire in January for suspending a Black prospective graduate over his refusal to cut his dreadlocks. Unlike Virginia now, Texas does not have laws that ban discrimination based on a person’s natural hairstyle or texture.

Federal regulations on Black hairstyles remain inconsistent.

While a federal court ruled in 2016 that employers can legally fire employees or deny applicants for wearing dreadlocks and other hairstyles commonly associated with African Americans, a specific ban was lifted in all branches of the US military after a four-year legal battle.

“A person’s hair is a core part of their identity,” Delores McQuinn, a Virginia state delegate and the bill’s lead sponsor, told local TV station WHSV. “Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it.”

Other states continue to weigh legislation to ban hair discrimination in the workforce and classroom. Known as the Crown Act, it protects against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles.

The Crown Act has passed in three states including California and New Jersey. Thirteen additional states are considering similar legislation.

Virginia’s hair discrimination ban takes effect 1 July.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian.

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