City College to name building after Britt

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday December 12, 2023
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The Board of Supervisors in 2019 honored the late gay leader Harry Britt, seated, on the 40th anniversary of his appointment to the legislative body. Photo: Bill Wilson<br><br>
The Board of Supervisors in 2019 honored the late gay leader Harry Britt, seated, on the 40th anniversary of his appointment to the legislative body. Photo: Bill Wilson

Three years after trustees first voted on the idea, a building at City College of San Francisco will be renamed for the late Harry Britt, a gay man who succeeded Harvey Milk on the Board of Supervisors following his assassination.

The San Francisco Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to rename the Multi-Use Building at City College's main campus for Britt. However, College board President Alan Wong stated that the college "may have to look into private fundraising" for new signage. Wong is not sure of the timeline for when the signage will be installed.

"I'm not sure what the exact official name will be, but it will include Harry Britt," Wong stated. "I'm not sure I want to jump ahead of staff on this since it was as thoroughly discussed as we could have." Wong also said he'd have to check in with staff as to how much needs be raised and whether it is necessary at all.

Back in 2020, the trustees voted unanimously to rename a facility for Britt, as the Bay Area Reporter reported at the time.

Britt died in June 2020 at the age of 82 at Laguna Honda Hospital. In 1979, then-mayor Dianne Feinstein, who died this year, appointed Britt to the Board of Supervisors following the November 1978 assassination of Milk, the board's first gay member. Britt won election four times to his seat and served as the board's first gay president. He opted not to seek reelection in 1992 and stepped down in early January 1993.

The college board's initial vote to rename a building for Britt came about after his death, but which facility was not specified in the original resolution. The delay was due in part to the board needing to determine a renaming process, officials said.

Wong told the B.A.R. that the resolution "started a whole process at different governance levels of the college to develop a policy for naming a facility after someone."

"It took three years to get a naming policy developed and receive a recommendation," Wong added.

"Various trustees, including myself, followed up with our administration to move forward with the naming policy and a recommendation by our college participatory governance groups so that we could make a final decision," he continued.

Eventually, according to Wong, the participatory governance council "recommended the college name a room or program, such as the Queer Resource Center, in honor of Harry Britt."

But at the December 7 meeting, the board decided to go against that recommendation and rename the Multi-Use Building for Britt.

The building is at City College's main campus at 55 Frida Kahlo Way, formerly Phelan Avenue. (The street was renamed in 2018. It had been named for Gold Rush-era real estate tycoon James Phelan but became associated with his son, James D. Phelan, a Democrat who was mayor of San Francisco from 1897-1902 and was opposed to Chinese and Japanese immigration.)

"I made the motion, which was seconded by Trustee Susan Solomon, to not accept the recommendation by the PGC [participatory governance council] and name the college's Multi-Use Building (MUB building) after Harry Britt," Wong stated. "The vote was unanimous."

Continued Wong: "Supervisor Harry Britt made history as one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials, an accomplishment that aligns with City College of San Francisco's historic place as the first queer studies department in the U.S. that started with a gay literature class in 1978. Britt's actions and activism embodied a persistent and courageous dedication to our core values and a wish to uphold these values for ourselves, our students, and the City College of San Francisco community."

Tom Ammiano, a retired gay educator who also served on the school board and later the Board of Supervisors and state Assembly, stated that "Harry was a humble man who accomplished much for issues of social justice without fanfare."

"For the legions of those he helped and inspired, this naming is a welcome tribute," Ammiano continued. "As committed as he was to carry through with Harvey Milk's legacy, he often confessed his first love was classroom teaching."

Britt taught at the former New College of California, which closed in 2008.

Tim Wolfred, a gay man who was on the City College board from 1981-1995, becoming its first LGBTQ member, and was its first gay president, told the B.A.R. that he was pleased with the college board's recent vote.

"I'm thrilled that City College has chosen to honor Harry by putting his name on a building," he wrote in an email. "As is City College, Harry's focus as a leader on the Board of Supervisors was always on the welfare of those on the outside in our society. He was our champion and our mentor. He would be very pleased that his memorial presence at City College might inspire its students to become engaged advocates for causes important to them."

The resolution had originally been introduced by Trustees Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano, and Alex Randolph. Williams is a bisexual woman who is a former president of the board; Temprano and Randolph are both gay men who are no longer on the board. (Temprano is managing director for external affairs at Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ organization, and Randolph moved to Oakland where he is on the planning commission.)

Randolph told the B.A.R. that he wanted to thank Ammiano "for bringing this to the board when I was president, and getting it done."

"I'm very happy that the board of trustees approved the long process we started down the road over three years ago now," Randolph said in a phone interview. "I think it's important to go through the regular process and this was one of the first times the college community proposed renaming a building after someone, so I understand it had to go through the different bodies and communities for feedback."

Temprano stated to the B.A.R. that it is "an appropriate and fitting honor for a renowned educator, San Francisco leader, and LGBTQ+ community icon."

"I'm grateful to everyone at City College who helped move this process along over the past several years since we passed our resolution, and am especially grateful to the current board for sticking to the initial vision of naming a building after Harry," Temprano stated in a text message. "I can't wait to be there when we cut the rainbow ribbon on campus!"

Updated, 12/12/23: This article has been updated with comments from Tom Temprano.

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