Harry Britt, the lauded LGBTQ rights activist and former SF supervisor, died earlier Wednesday at Laguna Honda Hospital after suffering from years of health issues; he was 82 years old.
Britt, who was appointed to the SF Board of Supervisors in January of 1979, replaced Harvey Milk after the District 5 Supervisor was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone at City Hall by then-District 8 Supervisor Dan White. With the brazen painting over of the Stud's iconic outdoor murals and now Britt’s sudden passing today, it's proving to be a trying week for San Francisco’s LGBTQ community — right before Pride weekend, no less.
We are saddened to hear of the passing of #HarryBritt, a Democratic Socialist who served on the Board of Supes for 14 years. Britt was a passionate defender of LGBTQ rights (of course) but also tenants rights. Rest in Power. 🌈🌈🌈https://t.co/54wLMQ56Rk— SF Pride (@SFPride) June 24, 2020
According to the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), Britt had been a patient at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco for quite a while, having suffered from various health issues over the years.
Even in his later ages, Britt remained politically engaged and used both his platform and voice to push progressive LGBTQ policies and help underserved communities. Per the BAR, Britt was active in SF’s LGBTQ Democratic club; the organization was recently renamed the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Decmracit Club.
In May, the club expressed its disdain and outrage at the police killings of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and other Black community members in a Facebook post — which included Britt's response to the White Night Riots in 1979 — to address the issue.
Self-described as the "third openly gay San Francisco supervisor,” Britt introduced domestic partner legislation in 1982, SFGate notes. Though the bill was later vetoed by now-Senator Feinstein — she succeeded in the SF mayoralty after Moscone's murder — it was eventually passed by Mayor Art Agnos in 1989.
Harry Britt was a pioneer in the LGBTQ community’s entry into electoral politics. He deeply understood that while our allies are essential, we must have our own seat at the table. Harry helped create space for people like me to serve in elected office. His death is a tragedy.— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) June 24, 2020
Soon after Britt's sudden death, condolences and appreciation for the veteran activist’s work came pouring in from public officials. "Harry Britt was a pioneer in the LGBTQ community’s entry into electoral politics," tweets California State Senator Scotter Wiener — who, himself, is openly gay — acknowledging Britt's role in his own appointment to a high-ranking public office. "He deeply understood that while our allies are essential, we must have our own seat at the table. Harry helped create space for people like me to serve in elected office. His death is a tragedy.
Similar messages of remembrance came from other corners of the city and country.
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. Though it was Harvey Milk’s dream to increase queer representation 1/4 pic.twitter.com/LYD3nriXv7— Rafael Mandelman (@RafaelMandelman) June 24, 2020
"I feel the loss of his friendship," past supervisor and assemblyman Tom Ammiano said to the BAR, waxing "[Britt has] accomplished so much." The current lone queer-identifying SF supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents District 8, added that Britt fulfilled the dreams of Milk and his leadership had a “tremendous impact on the queer community and progressive politics” in San Francisco. And that sentiment was echoed by a later released statement by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: “He was a leader who carried forth the mission of Harvey Milk while building his own beautiful legacy of progress for all people in our city.”
Born and raised in Port Arthur Texas, Britt was also deeply involved in the late 1960s Civil Rights Movement when he was a Methodist minister in Chicago before making the move west to California — and becoming a pivotal figure in the fight for Gay Rights.
Image: Wikimedia Commons