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New Mexico lawmakers consider hair discrimination bill

January 27, 2021 GMT
House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton sits at her desk during the opening day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stapleton later introduced a bill that would outlaw hair and head covering discrimination in schools and workplaces. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton sits at her desk during the opening day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stapleton later introduced a bill that would outlaw hair and head covering discrimination in schools and workplaces. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A bill to protect New Mexico students and workers from discrimination stemming from hairstyles or religious coverings cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday, winning a unanimous endorsement from the House Education Committee.

Native American and Black supporters shared personal stories with lawmakers during a virtual committee meeting.

“I support this bill because I’m a Black, Pueblo woman,” said Malia Luarkie with the group Indigenous Women Rising. “As a child, I was constantly teased and disrespected because I looked different. The teasing wasn’t limited to just fellow classmates but to their parents and school faculty as well.”

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Others who testified talked about a 2018 case in which an Albuquerque teacher was accused of cutting a Native American student’s hair during class on Halloween.

The bill explicitly protects religious head coverings such as the hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women, and implicitly protects all religious head coverings and hairstyles tied to a person’s racial or cultural identity.

If the bill is passed and signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico would be the eighth state in the nation to protect students and workers against hair discrimination under what’s known as a CROWN Act.

That stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” which is part of a national lobbying effort by Dove, the National Urban League, Color Of Change and Western Center on Law and Poverty.

The bill is sponsored by two Albuquerque Democrats, House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero.

The city of Albuquerque adopted a municipal version of the CROWN Act earlier this month.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.