Interview: Lexington council members plan to introduce “C.R.O.W.N. Act” ordinance this week.

WEKU | By Stan Ingold

Three members of the Lexington City Council are planning to introduce an ordinance to help improve equality in the commonwealth’s second largest city. Councilmembers Shayla Lynch, Denise Gray, and Tanya Fogle are introducing what is called a “C.R.O.W.N Act” ordinance. Councilwoman Lynch said the ordinance is designed to help eliminate, what she calls a common form of discrimination.

“C.R.O.W.N stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair.” What it will do is protect all citizens from hair discrimination, from being treated differently because of how they express themselves through their hair, how their natural hair grows out of their natural head.”

Councilwoman Denise Gray said hair is an important part of Black culture.

“Our hair is more than just hair, our hair tells a story, our hair connects us to our roots in Africa, our hair brings us together at times and it makes us feel good when our hair is done.”

Other cities in Kentucky have passed similar ordinances including Covington, Frankfort, and Louisville. An attempt was made to get a law passed through the General Assembly, but it failed.

The councilwomen encourage the public to turn out to Tuesday’s work session at 3PM to provide comment on the ordinance.

Listen to the interview

Interviewer: You all are introducing something called the Crown Act Ordinance. First of all, what does Crown stand for and what will this ordinance do?

CM Shayla Lynch: Crown stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair. And what it will do is protect all citizens from hair discrimination, from being treated differently because of the way they express themselves through their hair, how their natural hair grows out of their natural hair.

Interviewer: And so how did the idea to bring about this ordinance come about?

CM Denise Gray: Well, the idea for this ordinance is that previously Representative Attica Scott attempted to bring the Crown Act into the state legislature. However, it wasn’t it never exited committee. And so each state, I guess each city has the responsibility of taking it upon themselves to pass it. And so the idea originally came from actually a congressional bill in which they attempted to pass to make it illegal to discriminate based on on hair race based hair discrimination.

CM Denise Gray: And once again, it didn’t pass there. And both in both areas, the legislature so passed down to the states to do so. And in Kentucky. Unfortunately, it would be a long time before that happens. We’re doing our best here in Lexington to make sure that we passed the Crown Act ordinance here, to make sure that our people in Lexington feel safe to be themselves, to wear their hair as it actually grows from their head.

Interviewer: You’re talking about people needing to feel safe. Have there been instances in Lexington where people have been discriminated against because of their hair?

CM Denise Gray: Actually, I’ve had several conversations with individuals. I have been discriminated against based on my hair. I’ve won my hair, of course, throughout time, numerous different ways, from blacks to having braids to wearing a sew with or a slash weave to actually shaving all my hair off my head and coloring get different colors to now wearing locks. When I ran for office in 2018, I was told that I could not run with my hair the way that it and actually girls out of my hair so well that throughout that time I wore what we call so ends throughout my whole electoral season.

CM Denise Gray: And I was supposed to be making others feel safe to be around me, to make sure people understood that I guess my blackness was not threatening. So that was interesting experience for me. But I have heard from numerous other people who have experienced something the same. I know that Charlotte Councilmember Lynch has faced something similar.

CM Shayla Lynch: Yes, in my experience I was fresh out of law school when my first professional job, and at the time I was wearing a afro. And I love my afro. It was large and in charge and I loved it. And I went into a professional space and was told by a colleague of a woman that I looked up to as a mentor, that if I was going to be able to advance in my career, I needed to straighten my hair.

CM Shayla Lynch: And it was very disheartening for me. And while my parents raised me to be a confident woman. I took a hit that day. I was very upset, disappointed about that, that that’s what I had to do in order to advance in my career that she felt that way.

Interviewer: How do you break the stigma that natural hair or traditional hairstyles are unprofessional? How do you how do you break that.

CM Denise Gray: Tiffany?

Tiffany Brown: Well, look, I definitely think that we should all be judged based off of our merit on on our work, on our performance, and not based off of what? Not based off of how we express ourselves through our hair. Certain hairstyles are culturally related. We you know, and there are several different expressions of that. People of color have with their hair.

Tiffany Brown: There is a very complicated relationship. Many times we are forced or subconsciously assimilate to straighten our hair or wear it in a way that is assimilates to the majority culture. And so how we how we deal with that is to well, we have to promote the beauty and the and that complex relationship with natural hair. Right. But also, this ordinance would further amplify the protections of natural hair and the expression of hair.

Interviewer: If you’re just joining us, we’re speaking with licensing council members Sheila Lynch and Denise Gray and Tiffany Brown from the mayor’s office. And I want to just talk a little bit more about the importance of hair in black culture, specifically for black women. I’m a white male, and I honestly do not understand a lot about this. And that’s why I would like for you all to just explain to me the importance of hair in in black culture.

CM Shayla Lynch: It’s a part of our cultural identity. Our hair has always been a space where we can be free and it goes back to in our communities the beauty shop, the barber shop. That’s where we found community. We found fellowship, we found family, and we it was a space that was safer for us to relate to. Just to be ourselves was in the barbershops and the beauty shops.

CM Shayla Lynch: We weren’t just in there having getting our hair done or getting our haircuts, but we were in their fellowship thing. And so what’s important is community. And walking out of that barbershop or beauty shop, you felt a sense of self, you felt a sense of confidence because you knew you look good. You know, you just got out of the chair.

CM Shayla Lynch: You know, having that strong, confident walk is very important because in so many spaces, people of color face so many obstacles and racism and discrimination. It wears on. And so having those spaces such as the barbershops and a beauty shop to find community to support each other, walking out of those doors feeling like a million bucks, it helps us.

CM Shayla Lynch: It does a lot to further us as a people and as a community.

CM Denise Gray: And actually I’m going to take it back even further. Culturally, it is within the African culture. We can go back to ancient times where hair braiding was done, some of the same hairs that we’re braiding over here and now we’re done thousands of years ago. Our hair is more than just hair. Our hair tells a story. Our our hair connects us to our roots in Africa.

CM Denise Gray: Our hair brings us together.

Interviewer: Do you feel confident in the passage of of this ordinance?

CM Shayla Lynch: We do. We do.

CM Denise Gray: We do. I’m I feel really great after speaking with my fellow council members, my colleagues, about this and the importance of its passage, because many people don’t understand that actually it is currently legal to discriminate based on our hair. I’ve had individuals tell me it’s illegal and I’m like, No, it’s legal right now, it’s legal. So just having that conversation and actually educating makes me feel really good about I’m not going to even say possibility of the ordinance being passed easily.

Interviewer: All right. Well, that is everything that I have prepared to ask. Is there any that I may have missed? And you all want to make sure we covered?

CM Denise Gray: Yes, actually, since we are introducing this ordinance into committee, we’re actually asking for people in our community to come out to our work sessions and our city council meetings. Work sessions are held on at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays in our city Council meetings are held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. and asking people to come out and give their their own testimony during public comment of the importance of their hair expressing and any issues they’ve had with discrimination regarding their hair.

Interviewer: All right, ladies, thank you very much for your time.

CM Shayla Lynch: Thank you.

CM Denise Gray: Thank you.

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Photo: Top Left: Lexington Council Member Shayla Lynch, Top Right: Lexington Council Member Denise Gray, Bottom Center: Lexington Equity and Implementation Officer Tiffany Brown. (Stan Ingold/WEKU)