MN Senate votes to ban discrimination based on hair, OKs Juneteenth holiday

A person sworn
DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion presided over the Senate after being sworn in as the first Black Senate President on Jan. 3 in St. Paul. On Thursday the Senate passed the CROWN Act and a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday.
Courtesy of Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune pool

The Minnesota Senate Thursday passed a bill that bans discrimination against a person based on their natural hair texture and hair style.

On a 45-19 vote, the chamber sent the bill to Gov. Tim Walz who later signed it on Feb. 1. Known as the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN, Act, it passed the Minnesota House on Jan. 11 by a vote of 111-19.

Explicitly prohibiting hair discrimination

The bill’s supporters brought the proposal in response to reports that Black Minnesotans, particularly women, had experienced discrimination in the workplace and in school for styling their hair in braids, twists or locks or for their natural hair texture.

They said the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, but the definition of race does not yet encompass hair under its definition. The change would more explicitly prohibit hair discrimination when it comes to housing, employment or other areas.

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“What we have seen (is) unfair scrutiny and discrimination against women and men inherent to culture. And this bill is about protecting a person's decision, free from discrimination, to wear their natural hair in the workplace and in school,” the bill’s author, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “We recognize that any form of discrimination hurts an individual and we want all individuals to be able to go to work and feel included and welcomed in the marketplace.”

The Senate weighed but ultimately voted down an amendment that would have included a prohibition barring discrimination against people with beards.

Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, said Minnesotans with long beards should also be protected against discrimination in the workplace and other settings. And he said that he’d received an email insulting his facial hair.

“In my three weeks that I've been here, I have had emails from – I'm guessing – members of the opposite party telling me that I look ugly, and I should shave my face and I should go back to Hicksville,” Wesenberg said. “No, I don't think that's appropriate. I have a beard. It's my natural hair.”

Champion said that issue could be considered at another time but hadn’t been reported as a prevalent issue.

‘I can’t believe it took us this long’

Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, who is Black, said she’d faced comments in the workplace for wearing her hair naturally curly. And she said that discouraged her and has stuck with her in the years since.

“In the year 2023, I'm glad we are here but I can't believe it took us this long to acknowledge that the way that our hair pours out of our head is not bad. It is good. It is natural. It is beautiful,” Maye Quade said. “And this amendment gets us one step closer to telling every person including little black, brown and girls and boys with afros, that they are wonderful exactly how they are.”

The Senate also passed a bill Thursday making June 19, known as Juneteenth, a state holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the day that slavery was outlawed in Texas June 19, 1865. It has been celebrated by Black Americans for decades because it marks the day that the final enslaved African Americans learned that they were free. And it became a federal holiday in 2021. 

“Today our state and nation should celebrate Juneteenth, a chance to celebrate human freedom, reflect on the previous and ongoing effect of slavery and rededicate ourselves to rooting out the systemic racism that plagues our society as we strive to deliver the promise of America to every American,” Champion said.

That Senate passed the bill 57-8. The measure moves next to the House of Representatives for a vote.