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Georgia lawmaker pushing to prevent discrimination over hairstyles

State Sen. Tonya Anderson said discrimination hurts us all.

ATLANTA — We all want to believe we are contributing to a professional workplace or classroom. But where should an employer or school administrator be able to draw the line with rules on someone's hairstyle?

Some Georgia lawmakers want to put a stop to hair discrimination. The latest hair controversy is swirling around an African American high school student who lives near Houston, Texas. The student has been told he must cut his hair or he will not be able to participate in graduation ceremonies.

The school superintendent, at a meeting on Monday, insisted that the policy has nothing to do with race or hairstyle.

"Our policy limits the length," said Dr. Greg Poole, superintendent of the Barbers Hill Independent School District in Mont Belvieu, Tex. "It's been that way for years."

But the student's parents and their supporters said he has worn his hair that way since the 7th grade with no one objecting.

"Everyone has their own identity," said Georgia State Sen. Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia).

Anderson hopes to pass Senate Bill 286 this year to protect people who choose to have "braids, locks, twists, or other textured hairdressing historically associated with an individual's race. No individual shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis of such individual's protective hairstyle," unless it interferes with work.

"I served in the military. I fought for my country," said Anderson. "Discrimination hurts us all."

"Whether they're in the workplace, or schools, or even someone who applies for housing, they cannot be discriminated against because of the way they choose to express themselves through their hair," she went on to say. At least three other states have similar protections.

Violators in Georgia would not face jail, but lawsuits, civil fines and penalties.

In the Texas case, the student's parents said they may sue the school in federal court to change its hair policy.

It is an issue of deeply personal expression and identity that Georgia lawmakers may resolve, for everyone here, in the next few weeks.

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