Wisconsin Rep Jonathan Brostoff refuses to cut his hair until his bill passes

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Jonathan Brostoff
Wisconsin State Representative Jonathan Brostoff. (Left, on the House floor in 2016. Right, in a YouTube video December 2018)

Wisconsin State Assembly Representative Jonathan Brostoff strongly supports legislation to help the deaf community – so strongly he has vowed not to cut his hair until it is passed.

Now, over a year into his protest, Brostoff’s once-shaven head is gaining national attention for him and his cause: improved standards for sign-language translation.

Jonathan Brostoff: “We have to get it done because I look ridiculous”

When Brostoff worked at a US Senate office in Washington he became friends with two other interns who were deaf. As part of that friendship he learned sign language, and became interested in issues that are important to the wider deaf community.

In 2014, when he was first elected as a Democrat from Milwaukee to the Wisconsin State Assembly, he co-authored a bill to help improve the quality and availability of sign language interpreters. His proposal especially focused on access to quality translation facilities in key locations like hospitals and courtrooms.

The bill passed in the Assembly, but failed to get out of committee in the Senate. After subsequent attempts also failed, he made an impromptu declaration to his colleagues during the 2018 session:

“I said, look, I’m not cutting my hair until we get this done. Every time you see me, it’s a visual indicator that we’re going to keep working on this. And for myself, it’s a daily reminder that I’m not going to forget this.”

While Brostoff’s protest is not as dramatic as Georgia State Senator Nikema Wilson’s arrest during a voting rights protest at the state capitol, he has succeeded in drawing attention to his issue (albeit very slowly).

After twelve months, ignoring the once-shaven-headed Assembly representative has become impossible. But Brostoff is looking forward to finally passing his bill, and getting a haircut.

“My looks are important to me,” Brostoff told the Huffington Post, “but this is a priority and I’m not stopping this until we get it done. And we will get it done. For my sake, we have to get it done because I look ridiculous.”

The need for better sign language interpreters

Rep Brostoff’s decision to go haircut-free may have been impulsive, but the issue behind his decision is an important one for him.

“Current Wisconsin law and licensure regulations have created a perfect storm for our deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing neighbors,” he said, explaining his bill in a 2017 article.

“A serious shortage of experienced interpreters at the same time that rookie interpreters just out of school are allowed to interpret complex medical procedures, psychiatric appointments and legal court proceedings…This is simply about accountability, accessibility, and getting people back to work.”

The 2017 attempt to pass the bill failed, but that was back when his wife Diana was shaving his head every week.

Since an article explaining the reason for his growing, curly locks appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal on Tuesday, the bushy-headed Jonathan Brostoff (and his bill) have become an internet sensation.

“It’s a commitment, is what it is. That hair is a commitment for him,” former State Representative Joel Kleefisch told the Journal-Sentinal. “I think he’s channeling the spirit of Bob Ross.”

Bostroff likely agrees. He dressed as the Joy of Painting star for Halloween.

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