Make your home page

Indiana lawmaker plans to keep pushing for end to hair discrimination

Anti hair discrimination legislation

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Proposals to end hair discrimination have failed to move forward in recent sessions of the Indiana Legislature, but State Rep. Vanessa Summers says she isn’t giving up.

The Democrat from Indianapolis on Friday cited a recent Texas case where a 17-year-old student was suspended from a Houston-area school. School officials say his dreadlocks fall below his eyebrows and ear lobes and violate the district’s dress code.

The Texas CROWN Act — the acronym stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” — is intended to prohibit race-based hair discrimination and bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including Afros, braids, dreadlocks, twists or Bantu knots.

The suspension of Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, came after Texas legislators on Sept. 1 passed the CROWN Act. 

Indiana is not one of the 24 states with laws banning hair discrimination, although it’s surrounded by states with the legislation.

Summers says the conversation remains necessary in the Hoosier state. “When I found out about the CROWN Act around the country I signed on immediately. Now, this last year wasn’t the first time I’ve brought the CROWN legislation up.”

In the 32 years in her seat at the Indiana Statehouse, Summers says she has pushed legislation for years without success. In that same time, her hair has changed from relaxers, to braids, locs, and now a short haircut. She says her confidence comes from a constituency who supports the changes, but she knows others rocking similar looks don’t feel her confidence.

“In that space, I am Rep. Summers, and who is going to tell me I can’t wear my hair.”

Her measure, House Bill 1284 in the 2023 Indiana legislative session, called for the prohibition of race-based hair discrimination as it relates to hair texture and protective styles. Amid a supermajority of Republicans in the the Indiana General Assembly, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Education, where it died without a hearing or vote.

“It may be a fluke, and it’ll happen one day. You try and try again,” Summers said.

Efforts to push the legislation in Congress have also been known as the CROWN Act. The House in March 2022 approved the legislation with a 235-189 vote but never moved further.

In 2022, Indiana’s nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives split along party lines, with the the seven Republicans opposing the measure’s advance to the Senate.

U.S. Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis, voted in favor. He shared with News 8 on Friday a statement about his support of the CROWN Act, saying in part, “This is a civil rights issue — Black women are 1.5 times more likely than white women to be sent home from work because of their hair. It’s past time we redefine beauty standards and ensure no one is singled in the workplace, the classroom, and beyond.”

The measure was not introduced in the 2023-2024 Congress.

News 8’s Phil Sanchez talked with multicultural author and publisher Dana Bradford-Majors on Thursday night’s “UnPHILtered” to get more perspective on the matter. He asked Bradford-Majors if Indiana needs its own CROWN Law.

Bradford-Majors says, as part of a family of people with locs, laws to ban hair discrimination could potentially impact her.

About the Texas case, she said, “You have it where they are looking into his hairstyle. They’re not saying that it is not professional.”

While some people argue professionalism is at the core of arguments against the CROWN Act, Bradford-Majors says, that logic feels more like a broad attempt to force people of color to assimilate to a different standard of beauty.