Agency Overview

History & Mission


The roots of HRC go back to 1964 when the modern day civil rights movement manifested in San Francisco through demonstrations against hotels, supermarkets, drive-in restaurants and automobile showrooms that discriminated against African Americans. In early 1964, Mayor John F. Shelley appointed an Interim Committee on Human Relations, which subsequently recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a permanent Human Rights Commission be established. In July 1964, the Board of Supervisors passed the recommendation, and Mayor Shelley signed an ordinance establishing the Human Rights Commission. From 1964, the Human Rights Commission grew in response to City government's mandate to address the causes of and problems resulting from prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. The Mayor and the Board of Supervisors gave the Human Rights Commission more and broader powers and duties to address these problems, and passed additional ordinances, which were implemented by the Human Rights Commission. In June 1990, the voters of San Francisco established the Human Rights Commission as a Charter Commission (see Section 3.699-5 of the Charter).


For nearly 50 years, HRC has grown in response to San Francisco’s mandate to address the causes of and problems resulting from prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and discrimination. We:

  • Advocate for human and civil rights;
  • Investigate and mediate discrimination complaints;
  • Resolve community disputes and issues involving individual or systemic illegal discrimination; and
  • Provide technical assistance, information and referrals to individuals, community groups, businesses and government agencies related to human rights and social services

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Executive Director

"Middle" Separator Line

 Theresa Sparks

Theresa Sparks was appointed the Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission by former Mayor Gavin Newsom in July 2009. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Sparks served as an HRC Commissioner (2001-2004) and a San Francisco Police Commissioner (2004-2009), during the last two years of which she was appointed President of the San Francisco Police Commission. Ms. Sparks, whose career in the private sector spans a wide range of industries from retail to environmental engineering, construction and waste management, has directed numerous projects in the US, Europe and Asia.

In addition to her accomplishments in the private sector, Ms. Sparks has a national reputation as an effective human rights advocate and leader. She has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area Reporter, SF Weekly, San Francisco Examiner, Washington Blade and Advocate magazine and has served on the Board of Directors of the Horizons Foundation, the first LGBT charitable foundation in the country. Ms. Sparks was the first transgender co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the oldest LGBT political organization in the United States and, in 2003, chosen as a California State Legislature’s Woman of the Year.

Ms. Sparks has been instrumental in a number of ground-breaking human rights accomplishments in San Francisco, many of which have been emulated in other jurisdictions in this Country and around the world. As former president of the San Francisco Police Commission, Ms. Sparks helped institute nationally acclaimed protocols governing interactions between law enforcement and transgender individuals. Later, as an HRC Commissioner, Ms. Sparks led the first public hearing in the United States regarding the post 9/11 discrimination and violence occurring against individuals assumed to be of Middle Eastern descent. Ms. Sparks has also been actively involved in the San Francisco’s highly-publicized Transgender Health Care Ordinance which would require coverage for all transition-related medical treatment for employees of the City and County of San Francisco. In addition to these various high profile initiatives, Ms. Sparks continues to be a prominent voice against all forms of discrimination against the LGBT community.

As the Executive Director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Ms. Sparks continues to direct efforts to determine possible discriminatory policies of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Secure Communities Act and the establishment of “Fusion Centers”. In addition, Ms. Sparks has directed HRC’s first investigation into a complaint filed against a public agency under the San Francisco Sanctuary City policy; refocused staff efforts to develop new policies on how to address the Out-Migration of African American populations from San Francisco; and has increased the Commission’s profile as the facilitating agency for the Regional Hates Crimes Coalition, the San Francisco Collaborative against Human Trafficking and the Anti-Bullying Task Force.

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