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Barnstable County Human Rights Commission

Barnstable County Human Rights Commission

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In October of 2005, Barnstable County created the Human Rights Commission to address discrimination, equal rights, and equal access in Barnstable County.

The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission promotes equal opportunity in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, Town and County services, insurance, banking, credit and health care for all persons in Barnstable County regardless of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, sexual or affectional preference, marital, family or military status, source of income, neighborhood or disability.

The goals of the Commission are:

  • To promote and protect the basic human rights of all persons in Barnstable County
  • To enlist the cooperation and support of racial, religious, ethnic, civic, fraternal, benevolent, and private and public agencies in eliminating unlawful discrimination, and cultivating and atmosphere of mutual understanding of the County’s cultural and social diversity
  • To promote community awareness and understanding of the County’s diverse cultures through education and community action
  • To provide the public with a forum to identify and address human rights violations within Barnstable County and, where possible, to assist in the resolution of complaints of human rights violations.


The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission is administered by nine Commissioners who are nominated by the Barnstable County Health and Human Services Advisory Council and appointed by the Barnstable County Commissioners.  View Job Description HRC Job Description Revised 10-2015 pdf icon


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Contact Us

Barbara Burgo, Chair
Susan Quinones, Coordinator

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Why does Barnstable County have a Human Rights Commission?

 Cape Cod residents report that discrimination remains a barrier to equal opportunity in our community. According to recent research, 28% of surveyed Cape households report significant barriers to meeting basic needs, with discrimination being the most frequently identified problem. Currently, approximately 125 cases from Barnstable County filed over the past five years, are still under investigation at the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination in Boston. Because the towns of Cape Cod are the most geographically isolated from state and federal anti-discrimination agencies in Massachusetts, a local Human Rights Commission is a crucial resource for ensuring equal opportunity in all our Cape Cod communities. As a member of the Massachusetts Association of Human Rights and Human Relations Commissions, (MAHRC) we join similar commissions across the state who share Barnstable County’s commitment to civil rights and diversity.

Who is protected against discrimination?

All people have the right to equal opportunity in housing, employment, public accommodations, education and healthcare without regard for:

race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, genetics, marital status, familial status/children or pregnancy (including need for deleading of a rental property), veteran status, status as a recipient of public assistance (source of income), or past involvement in a discrimination complaint.

These rights are secured by federal and state law as well as the local ordinance that creates the BCHRC.

Discrimination can take place in both obvious and subtle ways. It is an arbitrary difference in treatment based on the legal categories listed above. These categories are called “protected classes.” It can take the form of harassment, such as derogatory remarks about a person’s identity, or it can take the form of unfair treatment compared to people who are not members of the same protected class.

What will the BCHRC do when an individual calls with a problem?

 The first step is to complete an intake either in person or by telephone. Based upon the information, the Coordinator determines the best course of action to resolve the complaint which may include mediation, referral to an advocate or attorney or referral to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

How can the HRC assist businesses, non-profits and public agencies with concerns about discrimination?

One of the BCHRC’s primary functions is to provide proactive education and outreach to the community in an effort to promote equal opportunity and prevent discrimination. The BCHRC is a resource for all individuals and groups with questions about equal opportunity responsibilities. BCHRC will provide annual training on current developments in equal opportunity law and best practices for promoting civil rights and diversity.

BCHRC is part of a network of government agencies and service organizations that share our mission and offer practical services specific to the many different issues within the broad category of human rights. A crucial part of the BCHRC mission is to connect Cape Cod residents with agencies and organizations that can partner in the effort to quickly and effectively resolve any issues brought to the BCHRC.

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Human Rights Academy

The Human Rights Academy began in 2007, bringing together teams of students from each Cape Cod high school to learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The goal was to heighten students’ awareness of human rights issues and to encourage their participation on school-year projects in their own schools that would promote human rights.  The two-part Academy culminated in a spring gathering where the students shared with each other the projects they had designed and carried out.

The fall session employs several media to introduce the UDHR, including exhibits, videos, group discussions, and speakers.  Students learn about examples of human rights violations; the ethical, moral, and legal bases for human rights; and ways in which students can stop or prevent human rights violations.  Once the human rights teams return to their schools, the Human Rights Commission and Town Representatives monitor progress of local projects through meetings with teacher/advisors and students, providing input, guidance and support.

The spring session of the Human Rights Academy is a powerful and moving event, as each school’s human rights team makes a presentation on their project.  In past years, projects have ranged from the international (sweat shops, prisoners of conscience, the need for clean water, the use of “conflict minerals” in electronic devices, etc.) to the local (gender violence, use of hate speech, reducing bullying, and celebrating international diversity).  Some projects raise money for a cause while others are designed to raise awareness and campaign for change.  The students and advisors celebrate every school’s work and learn from each other’s projects.

In conducting these human rights projects, students learn how to plan and carry out a campaign, how to raise funds and manage money, how to present their project to peers and to parents and other adults.  They learn that they have a voice and the power to make change.  They also learn to stand up for each other.

The program serves all of Barnstable County.  Every middle school and high school, public and private, is invited, as are the vocational schools.  The BCHRC is committed to the Human Rights Academy because it promotes in young adolescents an awareness of discrimination and human rights violations — and does it in a positive way.

We encourage schools, advisors, and the human rights teams to communicate with each other through email and joint projects.  Feedback from the students and teachers involved, as well as from guests and parents, has been resoundingly positive.  We hope that through the HRA, these students who are our future leaders will incorporate respect for human rights in all aspects of their adult lives.  We already see them sharing what they’ve learned with younger students.

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August 2016 HRC minutes
June 2016 HRC minutes
May 2016 HRC minutes
April 2016 HRC minutes
March 2016 HRC minutes
February 2016 HRC minutes
January 2016 HRC minutes
HRC December 7, 2015
HRC November 2, 2015 minutes
HRC May 4, 2015 minutes
HRC June 1 2015 minutes
HRC September 14, 2015 Minutes
HRC October 5, 2015 minutes


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News & Events

International Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The world now observes December 10th as Human Rights Day.  The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission has hosted a breakfast for the past several years to honor this day.  Read more about the Barnstable  County Human Rights Day Event.

Do you know someone who has put extra effort into ensuring human rights for his or her neighbors?  Two different awards honoring work on human rights will be presented at the annual Human Rights Day Breakfast. Nomination forms may be sent to  Click on the award below to view and print the nomination form.  View a list of past honorees.

The Cornerstone Award is given to individuals recognized by their peers, community, and associates as those who have fostered and supported human rights, concepts, and ideals.  View and print Cornerstone Award Nomination 2016.

The Rosenthal Community Champion Award, while similar, is designated for those in the public sector (law enforcement, elected officials, etc.) particularly those who have worked to advance human rights and to eliminate discrimination against immigrants in Barnstable County. It was named after Irving Leopold Rosenthal who served as Barnstable County sheriff from 1922 to 1933.  View and print the Rosenthal Award Nomination Form 2016.

“Human rights” is a broad term encompassing not only those enshrined in the U.S. Bill of Rights, but also the right to a nationality, to take part in the government, the right to work and housing and food, among others.  These are listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.  The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission is charged with helping to safeguard those rights for all residents of Barnstable County.

Any resident of Barnstable County may call the Barnstable County Human Rights Commission with questions or concerns at 508-375-6912.

Past Award Honorees

Since 2005 the Barnstable County Human Rights Commission has honored citizens of the County who exemplify a commitment to human rights for all residents of the County.  View list of past honorees.

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The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission was established by the County in 2007. The Ordinance was amended in September 2008. To view a copy of the amended ordinance go to HRC Ordinance 08-12

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Schedule of Meetings

The Barnstable County Human Rights Commission holds monthly meetings on the first Monday of each month at 5:30 PM.  Usually, these meetings are held in the Harborview Conference Room at the Barnstable County Complex, 3195 Main St. in Barnstable.  Please contact the HRC at 508-375-6912 to confirm this month’s meeting site if you would like to attend.  The meetings are open to the public.

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