AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Texas Tribune here.
Lawmakers in Texas will consider prohibiting race-based hair discrimination under a proposal that was inspired by the experiences of two Black high schoolers who were told to cut their locks or face discipline.
House Bill 567, from state Rep. Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland, would prohibit schools and workplaces from discriminating based on certain hairstyles — including braids, dreadlocks and twists. The bill is scheduled to have a public hearing Wednesday before the lower chamber’s State Affairs Committee. The bill does not refer to dreadlocks specifically, but mentions locks, a term some people use to describe long hairstyles similar to what are commonly known as dreadlocks.
Such laws, often called the Crown Act, have been passed in state legislatures throughout the country since 2019 when two young men in Mont Belvieu, east of Houston, made international headlines with their situation. A companion measure has been filed in the upper chamber by state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston.
Administrators at Barbers Hill Independent School District told De’Andre Arnold and his cousin to cut their locks or be disciplined. Both refused and sued the school district over its dress code policy in a matter that is not yet resolved. A federal judge in 2020, once Arnold had graduated, found the policy discriminatory and stopped the school district from enforcing it.
Before the ruling, Arnold had transferred schools to walk at graduation, which Barbers Hill officials had told him he would not do — or attend prom — without a hair change.
He’s currently a junior at LSU with plans of becoming a veterinarian.
“We have to show that there’s no room in society for people that are unaccepting of others and demonize others for the way they tend to live their lives,” he said. “Legislation like this kind of tells people, ‘It’s OK to be how you are; be happy who you are; be proud.’”
The same bill was unanimously voted out of a House committee during the 2021 legislative session, but the full chamber never voted on it before the session ended.
Harris County, the state’s most populous, and the city of Austin have already passed similar local legislation.
Bowers said the Crown Act Coalition, a national group that champions the legislation, reached out to her in 2019 to ask if she was willing to propose the legislation.
At the time, Bowers recounted, California had recently passed the law there.
Also at the time, Arnold and his cousin, Kaden Bradford, had drawn wide attention to race-based hair discrimination with their situation. Bradford had also been threatened with discipline — indefinite suspension — if he did not cut his locks. The two young men refused to comply and sued Barbers Hill ISD to challenge the school system’s dress code. The suit is poised to go to trial, according to court records. The school district has maintained it permits students to wear locks, but that does not preclude hair length restrictions in the dress code.
Twenty states have passed the Crown Act since the national coalition was created in 2019, including in Virginia, according to the coalition’s tracking. Other proposals have been filed in other conservative states like Oklahoma and Florida
In pushing for the law, Bowers said she has gone through transformational change herself. She had put relaxers — chemicals that help straighten curly hair — on her hair since she was 8 years old. In April 2022, she decided to get a “big chop”: a haircut down to her natural pattern to take out the straight pieces.
She almost cried when she looked at hair. It was hers but unrecognizable after so many years in a straight style. She has only straightened it once since then, she said.
When she wore her hair naturally to the Legislature’s opening day this year, she recounted, her daughter told her it sent a message that it was OK to do so for such a special day.
Bowers’ hope is that Texas can become the 21st state to enact the law.
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