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Groups Hope For Second Chance At Natural Hairstyle Protection Bill

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A group of advocates pushed for lawmakers to take another look at a bill that would prevent discrimination against hairstyles traditionally associated with race.

“I want to be able to go in if I choose to, to go into work with my hair like this,” said Alyssha Dairsow, speaking of her short afro hairstyle.

Right now in Utah, there is nothing stopping an employer from telling Dairsow that her natural hairstyle is unprofessional and she needs to change it.

SB80 is looking to change that. The bill — sponsored by Utah Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City — would amend the Utah Antidiscrimination Act to “provide protection for immutable traits and hairstyles historically associated with race.” That includes styles like braids, cornrows, and locs, which offer protection to natural hair and natural styles like an afro.

Earlier in the month, the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee listened to testimony from several people of color, including a man who said his Native American sons face bullying and harassment because of their hair, which is long for cultural reasons.

The committee ultimately decided to not move forward with the bill, saying it didn’t require a law.

Dairsow, the founder of a nonprofit called Curly Me — designed to empower girls of color — was disappointed by that response.

“Even if it doesn’t happen to you, understanding that it happens to a resident in your state, there should be some type of empathy there,” she said.

She also believes policy helps to shape attitudes and will make a positive change in the way people view what is and isn’t “professional.”

“Who’s to say that my hair isn’t professional? Who’s to say that my braids aren’t professional?” she said. “Just because you don’t see it in your workplace, that might say something about bias — implicit bias that you may have.”

The bill now has its second chance at life.

Sen. Kitchen said he hopes to revive it before the committee this week.

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