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Anti-discrimination protections for natural hair, protective styles pass state Legislature

 [from left to right] Democratic state Senators Erika Geiss, Sarah Anthony, and Sylvia Santana stand together in the Michigan Senate chamber. Anthony looks like she's talking.
Colin Jackson
Michigan Public Radio Network
Democratic state Senators Erika Geiss, Sarah Anthony, and Sylvia Santana speak to reporters after the Senate passed the CROWN Act on May 24, 2023.

A bill to add protections for “traits historically associated with race” into Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is heading to the governor’s desk after passing the Legislature Thursday.

The bill would implement a policy known as the “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act,” or “CROWN Act,” for short.

It would bar discrimination against people for wearing their natural hair. That includes related styles like braids, locs and twists.

Representative Stephanie Young (D-Detroit) said people have faced forced haircuts, discrimination and pressure to straighten their hair through harmful chemical treatments.

“As a woman of color, often times people look at myself and some of my colleagues and just instantly, we’ll be judged because of how we’re wearing our hair. Because it just doesn’t fit certain styles, it doesn’t fit certain social norms, that we’re considered different,” Young said.

The Michigan House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act bill by a 100-7 vote Thursday.

Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) was among the “no” votes. He said he’s concerned about the potential for frivolous lawsuits as a result of the legislation.

Carra said there could be non-discriminatory reasons for not wanting certain hair styles, though he agreed discrimination solely based on hair texture would be wrong.

“Discriminating or injustice or treating someone improperly or unfairly are things that can be covered under existing law without this amendment to the state law,” Carra said.

The CROWN Act’s journey to the governor is years in the making.

Senator Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) has worked on the bill since her time in the House. She said she feels the bill is written carefully to avoid abuses of its protections.

“It is related to race-based hair discrimination,” Anthony said. “These are around culturally connected hair styles, right? And so, I think as we’ve narrowed the focus of the legislation, hopefully it avoids some of those slippery slope arguments.”

Anthony’s bill passing the Legislature comes amid other changes to state civil rights law passed this session under new Democratic control.

Earlier in the year, the state officially enshrined LGBTQ protections in the statute as well.

Anthony points to these changes as an opportunity for population growth and retention.

“You see Michigan on the map for honestly being the anti-Florida. In an age which there is a strategic attack on all things diversity and inclusion and which some states are raising the flag for bigotry, and other states like Michigan are saying we want to welcome everyone,” Anthony said.

An early timeline for getting the bill passed into law aimed for the upcoming Juneteenth holiday.

Anthony said she hopes the governor can sign her bill sooner.

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