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New Washington bill would make hair discrimination illegal

Under the new bill, Afros, dreadlocks, and textured hair would be protected by Washington state law.

OLYMPIA, Wash — Washington state employers and schools would not be able to discriminate based on hair, under a new bill discussed in Olympia on Tuesday.

“Black hair is beautiful,” Rep. Melanie Morgan (D-Tacoma) told fellow state representatives during a committee hearing. “We cannot let discrimination and injustice happen in our state.” 

Current state law prohibits discrimination for race, religion, and sexual orientation.

Morgan’s bill, HB 2602, would amend the section covering race to include “hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

Examples listed in the bill include Afros, braids, dreadlocks, and twists.

RaShelle Davis testified to lawmakers that she has been told at work to make her hair more professional.

“As a black woman, I understand that when people say it needs to be more professional, it needs to be more white. I strongly disagree,” said Davis. 

“Controlling and taming blackness is an all-American pastime,” said Jenna Hanchard, one of the nearly dozen African-American women who testified in favor of the bill, telling lawmakers stories of how they were treated differently because of their natural hair.

Hanchard, a former KING 5 News anchor and reporter, read legislators an email she said she received from a viewer after Hanchard stopped straightening her hair.

"'Your hair needs attention. It takes up most of the frame and it looks ridiculous... personally I don't think you should be on-air. There are just too many of your kind on TV these days," said Hanchard.

No one signed up to testify against the bill.

Rep. Morgan said her bill has Republican co-sponsors and she has not heard of any organized opposition.