This week, the Navy announced that it was discharging Jessica Sims, who been a sailor for 12-years, for “failing to obey an order to cut off her natural hairstyle.”
The military has been under scrutiny for guidelines issued in March that critics believe were discriminatory toward African-American women. Those regulations “specifically forbid several hairstyles popular for black women who keep their hair natural, including twists, headbands, dreadlocks, or multiple braids that are larger than a quarter-inch.” A former U.S. Army Major, writing on ThinkProgress, sharply criticized the regulations, noting they targeted “natural styles African American service women have been wearing for years.”
Sims had been wearing her hair in the same way since 2005, without any apparent issues.
In response to the criticism, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the regulations to be relaxed earlier this month to “allow female service members to have a wider range of hairstyles.” But the Navy found that Sims hair still violated their guidelines.
Sims rejected repeated calls from the Navy to change her hair style, saying “I don’t think I should be told that I have to straighten my hair in order to be within what they think the regulations are, and I don’t think I should have to cover it up with a wig.”
The Navy said her hairstyle made it difficult for her to wear a gas mask. Sims said that her hair conformed to regulations requiring it protrude less than two inches from her head and that she “never had a problem wearing safety helmets or gas masks.”
After her discharge, Sims had no regrets: “I still stand by it. I would do it again if I had to.”