Protective Hairstyles Like 'Braids, Locks, and Twists' Protected Under New Virginia Bill

Virginia has banned hair discrimination under a new bill, becoming the first southern state, and fourth U.S. state, to ban racial discrimination on the basis of hair.

State governor Ralph Northam signed the House Bill 1514, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair, the governor's office announced in a statement.

The statement noted that when the law bans racial discrimination "on the basis of race," this includes "traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists."

"It's pretty simple—if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race—that is discrimination," Northam said in the statement.

"This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all."

"A person's hair is a core part of their identity," Virginia state delegate Delores L. McQuinn said in the statement.

"Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it. The acceptance of one's self is the key to accepting others," she added.

The latest law, which is in effect from July 1, comes off the back of the Crown (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, which was approved last year.

The Crown Act "ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles" under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as well as state education codes.

The Crown Act is in effect in California, New York, Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as in New Jersey.

The recent rulings follow several incidents of discrimination that have seen employees fired or children reprimanded over their hair, including in January in Texas where a student at Barbers Hill High School was suspended after refusing to cut his dreadlocks.

DeAndre Arnold, who's father is from Trinidad and has worn dreadlocks for many years, was told he could not walk in his high school's graduation ceremony if he doesn't cut his hair to meet the school district's dress code, NBC News reported in January.

"We do have a community supported hair length policy and have had for decades. Barbers Hill is a state leader with high expectations in all areas," the school said in a statement at the time.

"They [school officials] say that even though my hair is up and I follow all of the regulations, that if it was down, it would be out of dress code," DeAndre Arnold told NBC affiliate KPRC.

Earlier this year, Arnold was invited to attend the 2020 Academy Awards ceremony by the team behind the film Hair Love, which won the award for best animated short film at this year's Oscars.

Back in September 2019, a grandmother faced a battle with a local school board in Texas after her four-year-old grandson was told he had to cut his long hair or wear a dress if he wanted to stay in school.

Michael Woodley, a student at Tatum Elementary School, was reportedly told by a teacher that his hair violated the school's dress code, which requires "no ponytails, ducktails, rat-tails, male buns, or puffballs are allowed on male students."

The code also advises that boys' hair "shouldn't extend past the top of a t-shirt collar."

His grandmother has created an online petition asking supporters to urge administrators that a four-year-old should not be "bullied to cut his hair," which has been signed by more than 20,000 people to date.

Deandre Arnold, Oscars, California, February 9, 2020.
Deandre Arnold, the Texas teen who was told his dreadlocks violated school dress code, arrives with the "Hair Love" team for the 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 9, 2020. Getty Images