Greensboro’s Adrienne Spinner said that she’s excited that the city recently passed an ordinance banning discrimination against individuals for hairstyles based on race or national origin.

“It’s definitely a longtime coming for cities in general to include hairstyles as part of their non-discrimination ordinances,” Spinner said in an interview on Tuesday.

On Jan. 19, Greensboro city council members unanimously passed an updated non-discrimination policy that protects LGBTQ+ individuals and prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle. The move is part of a wave of municipalities in the state which are enacting similar ordinances after a statewide ban on such local protections expired in December.

“We want everybody in our community to be protected,” said Mayor Nancy Vaughan after the Jan. 19 vote. “We want Greensboro to truly be a welcoming place.”

Earlier this month, municipalities in the Triangle, including Durham, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, also passed similar non-discrimination policies. Mecklenburg County commissioners expressed their intention to craft a similar policy during their Feb. 2 meeting, according to a news report by the Charlotte Observer.

The sunsetting of the controversial Session Law 2017-4, previously known as House Bill 142, in December allowed cities and counties to once again pass protections for marginalized groups of people including the LGBTQ+ community. The law, which replaced House Bill 2 — otherwise known as the anti-transgender “Bathroom Bill” — placed a statewide moratorium on the passing of nondiscrimination ordinances by municipalities. Greensboro’s new policy reinstates language from its 2015 policy, including protections from discrimination by businesses and in workplaces because of “sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.” The ordinance was expanded to include protections against discrimination based on “hair texture and hairstyles that are commonly associated with race or national origin.”

While the recently passed policies in multiple cities have received recognition for their protections of those in the LGBTQ+ community, both Greensboro and Durham’s policy also include protections for different hairstyles. Greensboro’s ordinance is a reflection of the CROWN Act, a California law that prohibits discrimination based on hair style and texture that was passed in July 2019. According to the CROWN Act website, Durham and Greensboro remain the only two municipalities in the state with such protections.

“I’ve experienced microaggressions about my hair since I started working,” said Spinner, a Black woman and community organizer in Greensboro. “It’s always been a thing.”

Adrienne Spinner says that she’s been told her hair could “look more polished” by both Black and white individuals. (courtesy photo)

Spinner said that while she has never been outright denied service or been told she couldn’t get a job because of her hair, she has been told by both Black and white people that her hair could “look more polished.” The comments came after she began wearing her hair in more natural styles starting in 2014 when she stopped chemically straightening her hair.

“It was like, ‘Don’t you want a cleaner look?’ or ‘How often do you wash your hair?’ Just very personal, inappropriate questions,” Spinner said.

Spinner said she’s glad to see that Greensboro made the move to include protections for hair in the updated ordinance.

“I think Greensboro is the queen of empty gestures but no actual action,” she said. “I’m surprised they followed through.”

A 2020 Duke University study found that Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived as less professional and were less likely to be recommended for job interviews than their white counterparts. The study also found that even among Black women, the same biases existed — participants rated those with natural hairstyles as less professional, compared with those who had straightened hair. Spinner said the findings aren’t all that surprising, given her personal experience.

“A lot of flack I’ve gotten for my hair has come from my own family and Black people of older generations who are used to adhering to a Eurocentric style of beauty,” Spinner said. “I don’t want to see anybody having to deal with that. When it comes to your job, that should not be a hindrance for you moving up or being chosen over somebody else.”

Part of the conversation during the Jan. 19 Greensboro city council meeting included a debate about whether or not to enact penalties for businesses that violate the new ordinance. After a lengthy debate between at-large member Michelle Kennedy and District 3 member Justin Outling, council added amendments to the ordinance including a $500 fine for each violation.

“We need to focus on substance over the symbolism,” Outling told Triad City Beat on Tuesday. “This proposal was almost entirely symbolic and didn’t involve any penalties, didn’t involve any consequences until the amendments were made.”

How the city will determine whether a business has violated the ordinance remains to be seen, Outling said.

City Attorney Chuck Watts said the penalty will take effect on July 1, giving staff time to provide options for enforcement. Outling said council will likely discuss some of the finer points of enforcement on Feb. 16.

Jennifer Ruppe, the executive director at the Guilford Green Foundation and the LGBTQ Center in Greensboro, praised the new ordinance.

“The passage… provides dignity and respect to historically marginalized people in Greensboro,” she said in an email. “These protections are an important step towards full equality and will have an immediate impact on the daily lives of LGBTQ people.”

In neighboring Winston-Salem, City Manager Lee Garrity said in an email that a non-discrimination ordinance will be on the agenda for a general government city council committee meeting on Feb. 9. The city recently made national news after an LGBTQ+ couple reached out to the Warehouse on Ivy, a local wedding venue, about hosting their ceremony there and was rejected because of their sexual orientation. Greensboro’s new policy protects LGBTQ+ individuals and as well as those with hairstyles based on race or national origin in “places of public accommodation,” which includes businesses, entertainment, recreation, refreshment and transportation facilities whose goods, services and facilities are made available to the public. If a similar ordinance is passed in Winston-Salem, it likely would prohibit businesses like the Warehouse on Ivy from rejecting LGBTQ+ customers in the future.

A June 2020 survey by the Center for American Progress found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. The survey also found that 15 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans reported postponing or avoiding medical treatment due to discrimination. For transgender individuals the rate was higher, at three in 10 individuals.

Ruppe noted that she supports a penalty to “ensure that there is some accountability and that the ordinance is more than just a piece of paper.”

Spinner said she’s also happy to see it.

“I think that in order to really affect people the biggest way to do it is to hit them in the pockets,” she said. “I’m not one to say send them to jail but I think that’s a good place to start — is a nice, hefty fine.”

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