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Durham OKs Ban On Hairstyle Discrimination; Passes Ordinance Protecting LGBTQ Residents

Major the Bull has stood in downtown Durham for more than 15 years.
Credit Shawn Blanchard via Flickr
Major the Bull has stood in downtown Durham for more than 15 years.

The Durham City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday that aims to protect workers from discrimination against hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks or afros.

It also passed an ordinance that broadly protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

The City Council voted to ban employers from discriminating based on hairstyles, WRAL-TV reported. It’s an issue that Black people, especially women, say they’ve faced in their careers.

“It is absolutely a form of racial discrimination,” said Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry, who helped push for the legal protections. Early in her career, Deberry said, a court clerk pulled her aside and suggested she reconsider her short afro.

“There’s probably a very, very small percentage of Black women who can tell you that they haven’t felt some form of discrimination based on how they’ve chosen to wear their hair,” Deberry said. “Your grooming is talked about when you go out on interviews.”

Those in the hair care service see it, too. Salon owner Kito Jones said one client who worked as a neurosurgeon used hair relaxers because she felt pressured to conform. The woman’s hair then started falling out, Jones said.

“She was the only woman of color,” Jones said. “It did cause her to continue to wear her hair with chemicals in a straightened pattern so there was an acceptance, so to speak, amongst her colleagues.”

Greensboro’s City Council passed a measure similar to that of Durham's on Tuesday, banning employers from discriminating based on hairstyles.

While several other states, including Virginia, California, New York and New Jersey, have passed similar legislation, Durham is among one of the first cities in North Carolina to ban hair-based discrimination.

The Durham City Council is also scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution in support of Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, a federal bill that bans discrimination based on hair. The legislation passed the U.S. House in September, and city officials are joining a push to have the U.S. Senate take up a vote.

Durham is the latest North Carolina municipality to also pass an ordinance protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Greensboro and Orange County have also passed ordinances recently that broadly protect LGBTQ people and others from discrimination.

Orange County is now the first county in North Carolina to enact protections since a state ban on new anti-discrimination measures expired in December. Greensboro and Durham – North Carolina’s third and fourth most populous cities – are also now the state's largest cities to pass such measures so far.

Individual municipalities in Orange County such as Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill passed similar protections last week.

“LGBTQ North Carolinians have the right to dignity, equality, and fairness,” Jillian Johnson, the Mayor Pro Tempore of Durham, said in a statement. “Durham’s nondiscrimination ordinance is an important step on the road to the realization of full civil and human rights for LGBTQ people. As a queer resident of this community as well as an elected official, I’m proud to support this ordinance and urge communities across North Carolina to adopt similar legislation.”

WUNC’s Celeste Gracia contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

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Celeste Gracia was born and raised in deep south Texas. She’s always loved to read and write, so when she discovered journalism in high school, she knew it was for her. She graduated from the University of North Texas. She previously interned at CBS News Radio in New York and Morning Edition in Washington D.C. She constantly craves cookies & creme ice cream and enjoys singing along to Broadway musicals.
Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. He was born in Iceland, but grew up eating blue crabs and scrapple on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In addition to working at the Delmarva Daily Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his work has also been featured at SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel, NCAA.com, Sports Illustrated and SLAM Magazine. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and has won awards from the MD-DC Press Association and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.