ST PAUL, Minn. — Fewer than half of all states have signed the CROWN Act into law but Minnesota could be next.
If the CROWN Act makes it through the Senate and onto the governor's desk, the Minnesota Human Rights Act would be updated to emphasize that discrimination based on someone's hair is explicitly considered racial discrimination.
The House has passed this three times now, but the Senate never brought it up for a vote. Now though, with Democrats in control and a more diverse makeup of lawmakers, the Senate is set to vote on the CROWN Act Thursday for the first time.
The CROWN Act would basically add a layer of protection against getting in trouble at work because of a hairstyle. But this isn't just about the workplace. This would also impact kids. Knowing this, Children's Minnesota is taking a stance in support of the CROWN Act.
Senior vice president for government and community relations James Burroughs says around 38 percent of kids and families who come to Children's are people of color.
"They have a variety of different hairstyles," said Burroughs, who is also the hospital's chief equity and inclusion officer.
He says, a couple of years ago, Children's changed an outdated recommendation on patient hair care during surgery.
"If your braids weren't taken out, we said, 'Okay we possibly have to cut them out,'" he said. "We thought that was the right thing to do but we found out later, the braids didn't get in the way of proper surgery. It was just a thing we had been doing … So we studied it, we talked to patients and families. We went out and got the right products and now we're able to accommodate and make sure they're included in the way we deliver surgeries."
Children's is not just looking inward at its policies but at state law as Minnesota considers the CROWN Act.
"CROWN stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair," State Rep. Esther Agbaje, (DFL) D-59B, said before the House passed the bill two weeks ago. "The purpose of the bill is to allow more people to show up as their authentic selves in school or in the workplace without fear or repercussion because of their hair."
"We know that this is already covered but I think today we are looking at this a little bit differently," House minority leader Lisa Demuth, (R) D-13A, also said at the time.
Critics have said the CROWN Act isn't necessary because current law already protects against racial discrimination. Wednesday ahead of the vote, Burroughs explained why Children's is in support.
"Before we decided to support the bill, we saw some research saying that [over] 50 percent of moms with daughters around the 5 year mark, 5 years old, would experience discrimination, from their daughters, about their hairstyle and that's sad," he said. "For the first time ever in Minnesota, you have three Black women who are now in the Senate … Now is the right time for it … It's about the culture you want to set with people."
Children's is one of 50 members in the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity, which also wants the CROWN Act passed. General Mills, Target, and U.S. Bank are a few of the other members.
"It's valuable in the workplace and it's valuable when children are growing up," managing director Tiffani Daniels said. "We are standing at the door of a really historic moment and Minnesota has the opportunity to lead in the nation."
Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, the Senate's first Black president, is pushing for the Crown Act as well as a bill that would make Juneteenth a state holiday. The vote on both will be during a session that begins at 11 a.m. Thursday.
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