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Regional News

Massachusetts House passes bill banning hairstyle discrimination

Rep. Chynah Tyler, a sponsor of the bill banning race-based discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles, stands in front of the Massachusetts State House to commemorate the first Juneteenth holiday recognized by the state.
Jesse Costa
/
WBUR
State Rep. Chynah Tyler, a sponsor of the bill banning race-based discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles, stands in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse to commemorate the first Juneteenth holiday recognized by the state.

A bill aimed at banning race-based discrimination targeting hair texture and hairstyles has been unanimously approved by the Massachusetts House.

The legislation, approved in a 155-0 vote on Thursday, specifically prohibits discrimination based on “natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, twists, Bantu knots and other formations.”

"It's necessary because it affects many people in our commonwealth and around the country. It's a discrimination that still exists," said state Rep. Steven Ultrino, D-Malden who sponsored the bill along with state Rep. Chynah Tyler, D-Boston. "It's a shame that we actually have to pass legislation to address this, but it affects people in schools and in the workplace. That should not continue."

Supporters said Black women in particular have faced pressure in school and the workplace to alter their hair to conform to policies biased against natural hairstyles. The vote comes just two days after the Biden administration voiced its support for a similar effort at the federal level.

The bill also prohibits school districts, school committees, public schools, or nonsectarian schools from adopting or implementing policies that "impairs or prohibits natural hairstyles."

The proposal stems in part from a months-long dispute in 2017 between a Malden family and the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. Daughters of Aaron and Colleen Cook went to school with box braids, Ultrino said, which were at the time against the school's dress code. The two girls received daily detentions and infractions for their hairstyles.

This report includes information from Steve LaBlanc of the Associated Press and from the State House News Service.

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