Former San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt died Wednesday at the age of 82 after a long battle with various health issues, according to multiple sources.
Britt, who was openly gay, spent 24 years serving for the Board of Supervisors, and served as the board president in 1989. He’s remembered by many for his leadership and advocacy for the LGBTQ community in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
During his year as board president in 1989, Britt passed legislation that provided the opportunity for same-sex couples to be legally recognized. The value of this ordinance was momentous for gay couples in The City during that time, as it granted them hospital visitation rights during the AIDS epidemic, and allowed them equal bereavement leave as other city workers.
“It is not possible to adequately express what Harry Britt’s leadership has meant to our city, nor the tremendous impact that he had on the queer community and progressive politics over the last four decades,” District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said in a tweet on Wednesday. “He was the only openly gay elected official in City Hall at the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, leading and advocating for the gay community during one of our darkest hours, and he was a champion and pioneer for LGBTQ equality pushing policies like domestic partnerships into the national conversation.”
In 1978, former Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, was assassinated along with former Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White. Britt was later appointed to succeed Milk, and in a press conference following the shooting he reassured the public that he would continue to use his platform to advocate for the LGBTQ community.
“Harvey Milk’s people do not have anything to apologize for,” Britt said. “Now the society is going to have to deal with us not as nice little fairies who have hairdressing salons, but as people capable of violence. We’re not going to put up with Dan Whites anymore.”
Britt carried out his intentions to continue carving out a space for LGBTQ politicians, and he was honored by many who he inspired along the way today.
“Harry Britt was a pioneer in the LGBTQ community’s entry into electoral politics,” state Sen. Scott Wiener said in a statement. “He deeply understood that while our allies are essential, we must have our own seat at the table. Harry helped create political space for people like me to serve in elected office. Harry’s death is a tragedy. He will be missed.”