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The issue might be invisible to those not affected, but discrimination based on natural hairstyles is a long-running conversation among people of color

An onlooker observes a rally for the CROWN Act outside the Kentucky Capitol on March 1, 2023.
Josh James
An onlooker observes a rally for the CROWN Act outside the Kentucky Capitol on March 1, 2023.

A long sought-after bill barring discrimination based on hairstyles drew hundreds to the center of Kentucky government Wednesday. WUKY News has this snapshot from the Capitol steps.

"I love the texture of my hair... cuz I wear it everywhere," a speaker led rally-goers in a chant at the entrance to the Capitol.

The sheer size of the crowd, made up largely of young people and students, in and outside the Capitol spoke to the momentum behind what's known as the CROWN Act. The bill, which stands for Creating a Respectful World for Natural Hair, has already passed in 20 states, including Kentucky's neighbor to the south, Tennessee.

If passed in the commonwealth, it would add two provisions to already existing civil rights code, protecting hairstyles and expanding the definition of race to include traits historically associated with race. According to the ACLU, Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work due to their hair — and 80% more likely to say they've altered their hair from its natural state in order to fit in at the office.

"This is a real issue for us," Jackie McGranahan is with the ALCU of Kentucky said. "This is a real issue for Black Kentuckians."

While the protections still have a number of hurdles to get over in the General Assembly, there is more evidence that the movement is catching on — including a Republican champion in the Senate, influential lawmaker Whitney Westerfield, who described it as one of the "easiest votes" the General Assembly should have to take.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.