Addressing Discrimination in Delaware
Discrimination has many faces. We are lucky to live in a state that has broad anti-discrimination protections in housing, employment, and public accommodation. The work of preventing discrimination, however, is far from complete.
As Delaware convenes the 2021 legislative session, state legislators are working to strengthen and expand our understanding of discrimination Delawareans experience, and to prevent it. Three new bills have been introduced that would expand who is protected in Delaware, and give the Delaware Division of Human Relations and the State Human Relations Commission new tools they need to make Delaware a more welcoming place for all.
The CROWN Act
A coalition of organizations is seeking to end hair-based discrimination in Delaware and around the country. The coalition includes the NAACP, National Urban League, and Color Of Change. The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) would prohibit race-based hair discrimination due to hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, and twists. Eight states have already passed this legislation including, most recently, Connecticut.
The CROWN coalition conducted a study of 2,000 women in 2019. They found that Black women are 30 percent more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy. Eighty percent of Black women state they have had to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.
The primary sponsor of the CROWN Act in Delaware (Senate Bill 32) is Senator Darius Brown. This legislation has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.
Addressing PrEP-based Discrimination
Representative Sean M Lynn is the primary sponsor of legislation aimed at preventing discrimination against individuals who take PrEP for HIV prevention. PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is a medication for those at high risk of acquiring the HIV virus and can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by up to 99 percent when taken as prescribed. While still a relatively small group, the number of Delawareans on PrEP has been rising steadily since about 2013.
House Bill 111 would prevent discrimination against individuals who take PrEP when seeking disability, long term care, and life insurance. The bill is currently in the House Economic Development/Banking/Insurance & Commerce Committee.
The Religious Freedom for All Act
Senate Bill 72, the Religious Freedom for All Act, clarifies that discrimination against any person on the basis of their religion is illegal under the Delaware Equal Accommodations Act. The Act currently includes a prohibition on discrimination based on ‘creed,’ which is interpreted as religion. This bill, however, would clarify that issue and include religious discrimination to include all aspects of religious observance and practice, not just belief.
The primary sponsor of this legislation is Senator Sarah McBride, who stated, “At a time of rising religion-based hate crimes, it is critical that we fight for true religious freedom: a shield to protect, not a sword to inflict harm. I'm proud to introduce the Religious Freedom for All Act, adding religion to our state's equal accommodations protections.”
SB 72 is currently in committee awaiting further action.
The Delaware General Assembly (the legislature of the state of Delaware) convened in January and will adjourn on June 30, 2021. The status of some of these bills may have changed since this was written. Check for updates online at legis.delaware.gov.
The State Human Relations Commission works to eliminate discrimination and to foster amicable relations among the diverse population in Delaware. Its next public meeting takes place Thursday, April 8, via Zoom. Learn more online at: statehumanrelations.delaware.gov.##
David Mariner is CAMP Rehoboth’s Executive Director.