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A new bill would ban schools and workplaces from discriminating based on someone's hair

APTOPIX California Natural Hair Discrimination
Kathleen Ronayne
Shana Bonner, left, styles the hair of Pho Gibson at Exquisite U hair salon in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday a bill making California the first state to ban workplace and school discrimination against black people for wearing hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks.

A new bill in the Maine legislature would explicitly bar schools and workplaces from discriminating on the basis of hair style or texture.

The measure, introduced by Democratic Sen. Mattie Daughtry, would amend the Maine Human Rights Act to specifically include traits associated with a person's hair, including its style and texture. Supporters say the language would prohibit schools or workplaces from policing the hair styles of students and workers, which they say disproportionately affects people of color.

At a hearing on Friday, Portland hairstylist Tasha Judson said that the change would be an important step in addressing an issue that disproportionately affects people of color.

"Because for a lot of people, I think, making judgments based on what you look like, and your hair specifically, it's shrouded racial discrimination," Judson said. "Because it is mostly going to be things like cornrows, braids, locks, afros."

Supporters also pointed to incidents in other states, including a school hair policy in Texas that led to the suspension of two Black students. Maine's Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations also supported the measure.

Amy Sneirson, the executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, said that her agency already interprets racial discrimination as including hair style, but she understands that many people would want to see the trait explicitly protected in the law.

"I can also really understand that a lot of folks — especially people who are black or brown or indigenous, members of religious minorities — may not want to rely on our agency's interpretation of the law," Sneirson said. "And may really feel very strongly that this should be in the text of the Maine Human Rights Act, so it's clear to everyone what is protected."

Sneirson says her agency is working on rulemaking around employment and education, but acknowledged that any changes could take months or years.