Boston's Human Rights Commission Relaunched After Hate Crime Spike

After a 23-year-suspension, the commission will be able to investigate anti-LGBTQ discrimination and suggest legislation.

Boston might have been all over your Twitter timeline this weekend for holding the country’s first “straight pride" parade, but city officials are making moves to combat an uptick in hate-motivated incidents. Mayor Marty Walsh has revived the city’s Human Rights Commission, which has been inactive for 23 years.

The move is intended to serve immigrant communities currently under attack, but the seven-person body also investigates discrimination complaints against LGBTQ people.

Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders in Massachusetts, says that human rights commissions have been instrumental in advancing LGBTQ equality across the state.

“Cambridge has had a human rights commission which, I think, is the longest running in the Commonwealth addressing issues of discrimination that transgender people face,” Levi tells NewNowNext. “It was an important signal to the community that those problems would be addressed, and that is something that could be executed through the Boston Human Rights Commission.”

In 2017, the FBI reported that hate crimes in Massachusetts hit a decade-long high, with Boston seeing more than 10 times the number of incidents of any other municipality statewide. Crimes spurred by anti-LGBTQ bias made up 16% of those reported (racist crimes topped the list at about 54%).

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BOSTON, MA - JUNE 09: Marty Walsh, mayor of Boston marches alongside dozens of mayors from around the country during the 2018 Boston Pride Parade on June 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. Over 300 mayors are in town for the United States Conference of Mayors. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Walsh marching in Boston's Gay Pride Parade in June 2018.

The mayoral-appointed Commission will have the power to investigate bias-related incidents, calling witnesses, holding hearings, and issuing reports. It is also tasked with recommending new legislation to the Boston City Council and Walsh.

“As attacks on human rights continue from the highest levels of our country, here in Boston, we’re committed to preserving and advancing human rights, including in our immigrant communities,” Walsh said in a statement obtained by NewNowNext.

The Commission was initially established in 1984, but had just a 12-year run before being deactivated in 1996 under the late Mayor Thomas Menino, a staunch supporter of LGBTQ equality. Since then, protected classes in Boston have been able to pursue justice through more specific city commissions, according to Levi.

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BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 31: Parade participants are seen at the Boston Straight Pride Parade and Rally organized by Super Happy Fun America on August 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Participants in Boston's "Straight Pride" rally, flanked by counter-protesters.

“Boston does have a Housing Commission that addresses housing discrimination,” she says. “So there are other ways in which the equality commitments that the city adopted can be enforced or put into a fact, including the commissioners following through on complaints or setting policy to address those complaints when they arise.”

Ultimately, Levi believes the Human Rights Commission in particular can highlight—and hopefully help combat—issues marginalized groups face in the bustling Massachusetts city.

In Boston, that need may be especially pressing, too. This past Saturday, August 31, the city hosted a "straight pride” parade with a number of white supremacists in attendance, including gay alt-right political pundit Milo Yiannopoulos as its grand marshal. City officials had tried to deny the group a permit, but organizers ended up filing a discrimination complaint.

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