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Ethnic hair protections move forward in Minnesota Legislature

If signed into law by the governor, hairstyles and textures would be added to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, offering protections for “braids, locs and twists.”

Minnesota Capitol Dome
The Minnesota State Capitol building.
Michael Longaecker / Forum News Service file photo
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ST. PAUL — A bill that would create specific protections against discrimination based on ethnic hairstyles has passed in the Minnesota House and awaits a vote in the Senate.

The CROWN Act, sponsored by Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, would add hairstyle protections to the state’s existing human rights statute. If signed into law by the governor, hairstyles and textures would be added to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, offering protections for “braids, locs and twists.”

“This language will clarify that Minnesota will not tolerate discrimination based on hair. It will clearly define that no one should be prevented from a job or education because of the way their hair grows naturally out of their head,” Agbaje said ahead of a House floor vote on her bill last week. “We know that racial discrimination is not always overt and this bill ensures that discrimination based on biases or stereotypes can be stopped or held accountable.”

Esther Agbaje.jpg
Rep. Esther Agbaje.
Contributed / Paul Battaglia

Agbaje further added ahead of the vote on her bill that while protected hairstyles are often associated with people of African descent, the law creates protections from hair discrimination for all Minnesotans.

Minnesota’s hair protection legislation is part of a national movement to put ethnic hairstyle protections in state and federal law. So far, nearly 20 other states have passed their own versions of the CROWN Act, the name of which is an acronym for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.” California was the first state to pass such a law in 2019, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a CROWN Act bill.

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The House passed Agbaje’s CROWN Act during last year’s legislative session, but the Republican-controlled Senate never took up the bill. But this year the bill has already received a hearing in the Senate, which the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party took control of in the last election.

Members of the House passed the CROWN Act by a vote of 111-19 on Jan. 11. The bill awaits a vote by the full Senate, which had its own version of the bill but has adopted the one passed by the House.

While ethnic hairstyle protections enjoy broad bipartisan support in the Legislature, some GOP members have expressed concerns about the bill.

At a House Judiciary and Civil Law Committee Hearing on the bill, some Republican members asked about the bill's implications for workplace health and safety, such as long hair getting caught in machinery. Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero said workers already must prove that a hair policy is being applied for discriminatory rather than safety or health reasons.

Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, questioned the need for added protections for hairstyles in state law as the current human rights statute already bars hair discrimination when related to race. Lucero, an appointee of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, said the CROWN Act would provide “necessary clarity” on an issue that has a gap in existing state law and sends a “powerful message” that hair discrimination can qualify as race discrimination.

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The CROWN Act adds natural hairstyles and textures to the definition of race in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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