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Austin becomes the first Texas city to pass a law prohibiting discrimination based on hair

The side of someone's head with cornrows
Chet Yeary II
/
Flickr
People who wear cornrows or any other hairstyle commonly associated with race, national origin, ethnicity or culture are protected from discrimination under Austin's new CROWN Act.

The Austin City Council has unanimously voted to pass a law prohibiting discrimination based on a person's hair.

It's the first city in Texas to pass what is know as a CROWN Act, but joins a growing number of cities and states across the country that have implemented the measure.

CROWN stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." With the act's passage, the city code will be revised to include "protective hairstyles" in the definition of discriminatory employment practices.

Austin's Office of Civil Rights defines these as hairstyles "necessitated by, or resulting from, the characteristics of a hair texture or hairstyle commonly associated with race." Examples include afros, braids, cornrows and bantu knots.

“The impact of race-based hair discrimination can last a lifetime,” Carol Johnson, director of the Office of Civil Rights, said in a statement. “We know that discrimination hurts and this is particularly harrowing when it impacts our children, scarring their self esteem.”

After receiving a string of complaints during community conversations, officials from the Office of Civil Rights acknowledged discrimination based on hairstyle is a pervasive issue in Austin. At meetings earlier this year, a number of people described incidents of discrimination. One resident said a coworker told her she was “more approachable and friendly” when her hair was straight. Another said he was called a “gang member” for wearing cornrows.

A version of the CROWN Act was first introduced in California in 2019. It gained initial publicity in Texas after two teenage boys in Houston were suspended from school because of their dreadlocks. The U.S. House passed a federal version of the legislation in March, though the Senate has not taken the bill up yet.

Residents can report discrimination of any kind on the City of Austin's website.

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