Human Rights Commission Proposal Given nod of Approval by Select Board

town of hingham ma town hall
Photo Courtesy of the Town of Hingham

February 11, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer

The Select Board this week approved the establishment of a Human Rights Commission that Hingham Unity Council Board Member Courtney Orwig called "an important step toward ensuring that all who live, work, study, and worship here feel safe and welcome."

Select Board member Liz Klein worked on this HUC-proposed initiative with Orwig, HUC members Katie Sutton and Andrew Turner, Town Administrator Tom Mayo, and Town Counsel John Coughlin prior to the unanimous vote.

"We are grateful to live in a community with these values and feel fortunate to have town leaders who prioritize upholding them," Orwig, who is a member of the HUC task force that worked on this volunteer initiative, told the Hingham Anchor.

Klein said during the remote meeting that the Select Board appreciates the work of the HUC in "coming forward with this important concept" and sharing benchmark information and how Human Rights Commissions operate in other municipalities across the Commonwealth.

"This is an important step as we create a welcoming and inclusive community and is very much aligned with the community vision outlined in the Master Plan as well as the recommended action to create a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee," Klein said.

Sutton, Turner, and Orwig made a presentation to the Board prior to their vote, explaining that Human Rights Commissions exist in cities and towns across the United States and the world and that they "are based on the principle that every person has equal value and dignity no matter who they are. They promote community awareness and equitable policies and practices to protect the rights of all citizens and serve as a resource to community members."

The initiative -- which will not require town funding --  stems from the fact that over the past years, the HUC has heard directly and indirectly of incidents of bias in Hingham; studied the need for, and potential structure of, a Human Rights Commission in Hingham; and met with representatives of Human Rights Commissions through the state to learn about their experiences and initiatives, including regularly attending monthly meetings of the Massachusetts Association of Human Rights Commissions.

According to the presentation, identity-based mistreatment and discrimination occurs everywhere in the US, and Hingham is no exception. Such incidents in Hingham have been reported in the schools, by its faith communities, and on social media.

"Friends and neighbors of HUC members have shared accounts of incidents, and some individuals in the group have been targets of such incidents," Sutton said. "While various Hingham entities play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Hingham residents, there is currently no civic body charged with ensuring that programs and initiatives are in place to protect human rights, promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and provide resources to our neighbors."

Turner reviewed what the Commission's responsibilities would be and also talked about the composition of the "team." (See below.)

The Commission's charge includes:

  •  Finding opportunities to build community awareness concerning human rights --including, but not limited to, diversity, equity and inclusion within the Town of Hingham and beyond -- through educational programs, summits, panels, celebrations, and other community events;
  • Developing programs and initiatives and providing community resources to promote human rights within the town; and providing annual written or verbal reports to the Select Board about Commission activities.

The Commission will act as an advisory body to the Select Board and will be comprised of 13 members -- eight members recommended by various leaders within the community and five at-large members, to be appointed by the Select Board.

The composition of the recommended appointed members is as follows: a member of the Hingham Police Department recommended by the police chief; one member recommended by the School Committee from the Hingham Public Schools; and one member each recommended by the Council on Aging; Commission on Disabilities;  Affordable Housing Trust; Housing Authority; and Recreation Commission.

One member of the Commission will be a Hingham resident who is a high school student, recommended by the School Committee and appointed by the Select Board.  The five at-large members appointed by the Select Board will also reside in Hingham.

The establishment of the Commission represents the Town of Hingham’s commitment to supporting the rights of all persons in Hingham "to enjoy the free and equal exercise of their rights and privileges as secured by the Constitution and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and of the United States and to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the Town of Hingham."

According to the statement of creation, purpose, and charge for the Commission, to the  extent feasible, the Commission members should have relevant experience in human rights --  including issues pertaining to diversity, equity and inclusion -- "and should represent diverse groups within the Town of Hingham, including but not limited to race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital, family or military or veteran status, socio-economic status, and ex-offender or disability status."

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