Kentucky Governor Issues Law Banning Discrimination Against Natural Hairstyles

by Xara Aziz

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has issued executive orders to make Juneteenth an official holiday for the executive branch of Kentucky and to establish laws to protect against discrimination based on natural hairstyles, including afros, braids, and twists. This decision places Kentucky among at least 28 other states and Washington, D.C., that recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday, according to Pew Research Center.

“I’ve decided I can no longer wait for others to do what is right,” Beshear stated before signing the orders on May 23. “We must look at it straight on and not hide from our own history, even the parts that are painful. Instead, we recognize it, attempt to learn from it, and work to repair the lasting damage and heal our nation’s wounds so we can make progress for a better tomorrow.”

The first order, known as the CROWN Act, prohibits discrimination against state government employees and job applicants based on natural hair texture and protective hairstyles. The second order designates Juneteenth as an official holiday in Kentucky, aligning the state with approximately 28 others that recognize the historical significance of June 19, 1865.

Beshear also urged lawmakers to support legislation to help in the plight of Black Americans.

Juneteenth is a federal holiday commemorating the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were freed—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued during the Civil War. President Joe Biden established it as a federal holiday in 2021.

A 2023 study by the national CROWN Act revealed that nearly half of Black women feel pressured to conform their hairstyles to European standards, especially in professional settings. While 22 states had enacted CROWN Acts by 2023, Beshear’s executive order specifically protects state government employees and job applicants from discrimination based on natural hair texture and protective hairstyles.

The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination “on the basis of hair texture or protective hairstyle commonly associated with race” with an emphasis on “hairstyle[s] commonly associated with race,” which cover styles including afros, cornrows, bantu knots and high-top fades, among others.

The Act “applies to employers, labor unions, employment agencies, public schools, and institutions of higher education,” according to a Lexology report. “Currently, there are no cases that challenge the CROWN Act in the employment context.”

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