Montgomery County becomes first US county to ban discrimination based on natural hairstyles

Maryland’s Montgomery County is the first county in the United States to pass legislation banning discrimination based upon a person’s natural hairstyle.

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously for the bill that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, taxi service and other public accommodations. A person who is discriminated against can seek a civil penalty of up to $5,000 through the county’s Office of Human Rights.

“It will expand the definition of race to include natural hairstyles, like Afros, twists, Bantu knots, and protective hair styles like braids, that people of African descent wear,” said Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando, who spearheaded the effort with Council President Nancy Navarro.

“We have over 200,000 black and Latina women in Montgomery County, many of whom get up every day and make decisions about how they are going to present themselves to the world,” said Jawando.

Navarro, whose daughter’s hair is naturally curly, recently spoke with her now-grown daughter about the issue.

“When she was in middle school, there was this struggle about me constantly telling her how beautiful she was as ‘wear your hair out, and wear it natural.’ And, there was this sense of ‘No, I’ve got to kind of tame it,'” Navarro recalled.

The bill, entitled the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act is similar to legislation passed in July in New York and California. Similar legislation has been introduced in Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan and Illinois.”

Navarro said the bill is another step toward racial equality: “To make sure that everybody in this county understands that we see you.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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