January 30, 2021

Nondiscrimination bill to protect cultural hair and hairstyles receives unanimous support in Senate Education Committee

A nondiscrimination bill to protect cultural hairstyles in the workplace and school settings received bipartisan support in the Senate Education Committee Friday.

The No School Discrimination for Hair bill passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee Friday. More than one state senator expressed shock that discrimination around

cultural hair and hairstyles is still possible with impunity.

“We should’ve been doing this decades ago,” state Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said.

Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Harold Pope Jr., of Albuquerque, SB 80, protects children in public and charter schools and people in the workplace from discrimination based on cultural hair and hair styles, such as braids, locs, twists, and knots. Democratic state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, also from Albuquerque and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill places “a duty on the [Public Education Department] to work with the school board.”

“When the PED has an affirmative obligation to train its teachers, it’s a more positive experience, it makes sure our students who have cultural hair are welcomed,” Sedillo Lopez said.

Students can also sue if they feel they’ve been discriminated against because of their hair. But Sedillo Lopez said that she believes that the PED providing training would reduce litigation.

“Because people will realize it’s not okay to discriminate based on hair styles,” she said.

Department of Workforce Secretary Bill McCamley said during the hearing that for the workplace portion of the bill, if a worker felt they had been terminated, demoted or discriminated against in the workplace because of their hair, the worker could file a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau. McCamley said that though the bill doesn’t come with a financial appropriation for enforcement, the department is capable of handling cases when they arise.

“We don’t think it’ll create too much of a burden (for the Department of Workforce Solutions.) We think we’re good with the workload and our people are familiar with racial discrimination type of stuff,” McCamley said.

A parallel bill, HB 29, passed the House Education Committee Thursday. It will next be heard in the House Judiciary Committee. The two bills together are known as the CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. The bills are part of a national effort to pass nondiscrimination laws around cultural hair and hairstyles around the country.

Related: An anti-discrimination bill to protect Black hair and hairstyles will be prefiled in January

No one spoke in opposition to the bill and several who spoke for it testified about discrimination they had personally experienced. Malia Luarkie (Laguna), co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, testified that she straightened her hair for ten years because she was teased in school for her natural hair. She said Black people are disrespected and that the discrimination is rooted in racism.

Alexandria Taylor, chair of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Advisory Council for Racial Justice and director of Sexual Assault Services, New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, said she made her son write a three-page research paper on discrimination against children wearing locs when he wanted to loc his hair.

“Have any of you had to do this?” She asked members of the committee.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.