Navy Discharges Black Woman Who Refused to Cut Natural Hair

Jessica Sims had been a sailor for 12 years and for years had worn her hair in tight, twisted dreadlocks that she could pull back into a bun. Recently, Navy officials demanded that she cut her hair or wear a wig; she refused, so the Navy let her go.

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Jessica Sims

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After months of discussion about how styling and protocol related to black women's hair in the armed forces, the Navy has discharged Jessica Sims, a sailor for 12 years, for "failing to obey an order to cut off her natural hairstyle," ThinkProgress reports.

Sims, "who wears her hair in tightly twisted locks pulled back in a bun," claims that her record was unblemished and that she had no complaints about her natural hair until she was given orders to teach at a Navy Illinois boot camp.

There, the 32-year-old sailor told the Army Times, she was ordered in April to either cut her hair or wear a wig. Sims refused, and she was written up for "serious misconduct."

Since March, the military has been under scrutiny for its attempts to impose new hairstyle restrictions that would no longer allow twists, headbands, dreadlocks or multiple braids longer than a quarter-inch, according to ThinkProgress.

According to the news site, after much discussion, Sims was ultimately discharged for a hairstyle she had been wearing since 2005. "For the past couple weeks, not knowing what the Navy was going to do, if they were going to move forward with the discharge or keep me in, had me in a little limbo," Sims said in a phone interview Wednesday with USA Today. "In the back of my head, I knew that they weren't going to change, so it was more of just waiting for the date."

Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered that the hair restrictions be loosened to allow for a mix of hairstyles, but Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, told USA Today that Sims was discharged for "disobeying a lawful order," noting that her bun was too bulky to fit under a gas mask.

Sims claims that her hairstyle didn't violate regulations requiring her hair not to protrude more than 2 inches, and she didn't believe that she should have to "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," ThinkProgress reports.

Sims also notes that she never had trouble wearing a gas mask or safety helmets before and that she has no regrets about her decision, telling ThinkProgress, "I still stand by it. I would do it again if I had to."

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