March 12, 2021

Senate passes bill protecting hair and hair styles in schools and workplace

A bill to protect people in school or the workplace from discrimination based on their hair or hairstyles passed 37 to 0 in the Senate Thursday.

SB 80 would amend the New Mexico Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on cultural or religious headdresses and protective hairstyles and would prevent school districts and charter schools from disciplining children based on their hair, hairstyle or cultural or religious headdresses.

Sponsored by state Sen. Harold Pope Jr., D-Albuquerque, who talked about discrimination he faced as a child because of his hair, the bill received virtually no debate on the Senate floor. Pope is the first Black state Senator in New Mexico history. State Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said he supported the bill but asked if a school coach or referee would be able to address safety issues if the bill passed.

Pope said “safety will always come first.”

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he wanted to make sure it was clear in the Senate debate that “we don’t send a message that by doing this bill, we are making discrimination unlawful for the first time.”

Candelaria, who is a lawyer, said he currently represents a young woman who experienced discrimination based on her hair in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

“I want to further clarify this does not take away remedies people are already seeking in existing law,” Candelaria said.

Several other state senators rose to express their support of the bill, with many saying that it is unfortunate that the public needs such a bill.

“How we look and dress is important to us individually and for our cultural identity,” state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said. Lopez is also a sponsor to the bill.

Some Native American state Senators also rose to speak about discrimination affecting Indigenous people around their hair. Albuquerque state Sen. Brenda McKenna, who is a member of the Nambé Pueblo and a Democrat, said that both she and one of her brothers were told by previous employers they had to cut their hair.

An identical bill, HB 29, passed the House and is waiting to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

The No Discrimination for Hair bill is also known as the CROWN Act, which means Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, and it has passed in seven other states. The soap company Dove found that Black women are 30 percent more likely to be made aware of formal workplace policies and are one and half times more likely to be sent home because of their hair.

“They shouldn’t have to face such scrutiny,” Pope said on the Senate floor. “Not only is it discrimination, it’s inequity because there is a social and economic cost.”