Members of the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee hear testimony Friday about the proposed measure to bar hairstyle discrimination. Screenshot from video

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are weighing a proposal to ban discrimination based on hairstyles or texture, an issue of particular concern to people with African ancestry.

“We often see the impact of race-based hair discrimination in the communities we serve,” Tobin Williamson, advocacy manager for the Lewiston-based Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, told legislators at a recent hearing.

“Black and Brown students from our communities have been shamed by their teachers because of their hairstyles,” Williamson said, and others in foster care “have been questioned about why their haircuts are so expensive.”

“For decades, hair discrimination has been prevalent in classrooms and workplaces across the nation, even here in Maine,” Williamson said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mattie Daughtry, a Brunswick Democrat, said the measure would amend Maine’s Human Rights Act based on language that’s already law in Maryland.

“Hair discrimination is rooted in systemic racism by preventing students and employees from wearing styles such as locks, braids, Bantu knots and afros,” Daughtry said.


Tasha Judson, a hairstylist in Portland, urges Maine lawmakers to pass the proposal measure to bar discrimination based on hairstyles. Screenshot from video

Tasha Judson, a hairstylist in Portland, told the Judiciary Committee that “people deserve to wear their hair the way it grows.”

“By encouraging individuals to straighten or chemically treat their hair to fit a particular standard, those same individuals deny their culture and damage their hair for the long run,” Daughtry said. “Discriminating against appearance is another tool to aggress Black Americans by policing and surveying their choices, eroding trust between authority figures like teachers and students.”

A ban on discrimination based on hairstyle is already law in 14 states, supporters said, including Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

The Maine Association for the Education of Young Children said the legal revision is needed to “ensure that children are not penalized for embracing their culture through their hairstyles.”

Gina Forbes, a consultant in Brunswick, told legislators during Friday’s committee hearing that “each child is unique inside and out” and “no child, or person of any age, should be discriminated against because of their hair or hairstyle.”

“Children with all colors, textures and styles of hair are beautiful and important,” Forbes said in written testimony.


“When children attend a place of learning, they should not have to question whether their hair is ‘presentable’ based on standards that promote Eurocentric beauty standards,” Forbes said. “This is harmful to their sense of safety, connection and belonging which is foundational to being able and ready to learn, no matter what the age.”

Whitney Parrish of Augusta, the acting executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations, said that “race-based hair discrimination is not a new issue.”

“Research and experience show that bias against natural hair limits job opportunities for Black and African American women and Black women with natural hair are often seen as less professional and less competent and are less likely to be referred for job interviews,” Parrish said.

Parrish said that Black hair “is an expression of identity and culture and has deep connection to culture, religion and history. No one should ever be targeted for being who they are, and no one should need to change their hair using chemicals and heat to be taken more seriously, have more access to opportunity, or even be allowed in certain spaces.”

Kholiswa Mendes Pepani of Portland urged legislators to back the measure.

“For most Black people, the intimate relationship shared with our hair is marred by systemic racism,” Pepani said.

In written testimony, Pepani said, “Black people have for centuries been told that our natural hair is too difficult, unmanageable or unprofessional due to white supremacist standards of beauty and acceptability.”

“Black hair is a lifelong expression of identity — passed down between generations as an oration about our history, culture and resilience,” Pepani said. “Passing this bill would support Black people’s right to style their hair naturally and defend them against discrimination as it might arise. It is a needed step in dismantling racism.”

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