FORBID DISCRIMINATION AGAINST A PERSON WITH A NATURAL HAIRSTYLE

By Bob Katzen

The House 155-0, approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit any person or entity including educational institutions, workplaces and public spaces from implementing any policy that would explicitly target someone who wears their natural hairstyle. The measure defines natural hairstyle as “hair texture, hair type and protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists and other formation.”

The bill also expands existing anti-bullying law in schools to include recognition for students who may be more vulnerable to bullying or harassment because on their natural hairstyle. Another provision requires the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination to investigate complaints filed against employers who have discriminated based on natural hairstyle.

“This is an historic moment for Massachusetts. I am beyond delighted that the [bill] passed unanimously in the House, and words cannot describe how great it is to see the years of hard work from advocates, staff, legislators and community members bear fruit,” said co-sponsor Rep. Steve Ultrino (D-Malden). “Today, the votes in our chamber sent a clear message: race-based discrimination has no place in our commonwealth. On this day, we ensured that a person’s racial and cultural identity will no longer be an obstacle to their education, professional career and path to success.”

There was a light moment during floor debate on the bill. “As you may have guessed, I have never experienced hair discrimination,” said Rep. Ultrino, who is bald.

“People of color across the commonwealth, particularly Black women, continue to face discrimination in school, in the workplace and in public spaces based on the texture and style of their hair,” said Rep. Michael Day (D-Stoneham), House Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary. “It is racism, and this bill is necessary to address continued attempts to outflank our laws against discrimination based on race.”

The House approved the bill in the 2019-2020 session on July 31, 2020 and sent it to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it died without further action and without a vote by the full Senate.

Beacon Hill Roll Call asked Senate President Karen Spika (D-Ashland) and Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport) to explain why the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2020 did not act on what seems to be a non-controversial bill and if they think the bill will die in committee again this year or get through the committee and be approved the Senate. Despite repeated requests, neither Spilka’s office nor Rodrigues’ office responded.

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