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Ky. Gov. Beshear signs order banning race-based hair discrimination

Gov. Andy Beshear signing an executive order in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Courtesy of Gov. Andy Beshear
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Gov. Andy Beshear signed the executive order mirroring the CROWN Act in from of members of Team Kentucky and state lawmakers.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday to ban race-based hair discrimination. Community leaders said this is the first step in a larger effort to protect natural hair in the commonwealth.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order Thursday mirroring the CROWN, or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, Act.

The order aims to prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on natural hairstyles associated with race in Kentucky. This includes Black hairstyles like braids, locs and twists that have historically been considered unprofessional by Eurocentric standards.

At a news conference Thursday, Beshear said he wants the protections to set the standard for inclusivity in the workplace across the commonwealth.

“I've always believed that diversity is an asset, and across Kentucky we're building a brighter future for everyone with a diverse workforce full of talented, hardworking Kentuckians from all different backgrounds,” he said. “That's what makes us special.”

Melinda Wofford, an assistant director for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, reflected on her experience as a Black woman with natural hair.

“The way my hair looks is not a reflection of my work ethic and definitely not a reflection of my character,” Wofford said Thursday. “This order makes possible the freedom needed for me to continue to wear my hair in its natural state, the state that God blessed me with without fear of discrimination in the workplace.”

Black women with natural hairstyles are 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional, according to a 2023 study by Dove.

The CROWN Act has repeatedly failed to advance in the Kentucky Legislature.

After Beshear signed the executive order, former Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott said, “It’s about time.”

Scott — who championed the CROWN Act in the Legislature— said the executive order is the first step towards statewide natural hair protections.

“All executive orders are temporary and can change with the next administration. So we have to codify it into law,” she said.

Scott said she became the main sponsor of the previous bill after her daughter dealt with hair discrimination while attending Butler Traditional High School. She said she hopes Beshear’s executive order will inspire lawmakers to protect natural hairstyles in the workplace and beyond.

“People deserve to be able to thrive and to live without fear of discrimination, whether it's in the workplace or in housing or at school,” she said.

Some Kentucky cities — Louisville, Covington, Frankfort and Lexington — have adopted local race-based hair protections.

American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky Executive Director Amber Duke said eliminating misconceptions about natural hair is also part of ending race-based hair discrimination.

The Dove study found over 20% of Black women ages 25-34 are sent home from work because of their hairstyle.

Duke said the discrimination stems from a lack of knowledge about natural hair hygiene, styles maintenance and its connection to mental and physical health.

“We haven't had to shut an office down because someone was allowed to wear an Afro to work on a Tuesday,” she said. “Our hope is that [the executive order] is an educational piece, but that also folks can see that it's important that people have these protections.”

Several states including California, Illinois and Texas have codified versions of the CROWN Act into law.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.
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