|Larry Brinkin, center, with Joe Alfano and Frank Capley, a married couple he helped receive health care benefits from a reluctant elevator company. Photo by Rink. Photo by Rink.
In 1975, Larry Brinkin was an activist in civil rights, anti-war, women‚Äôs movements, and the organization Bay Area Gay Liberation. In 1982, he fought back when he filed the first lawsuit in U.S. history seeking domestic partner benefits from an employer. In 1991, he stood next to Mayor Art Agnos when the San Francisco Ordinance providing health insurance coverage to City employees‚Äô domestic partners was signed into law. In 1997, he got his Masters Degree. In that same year his son Ben was born. And in 2008, he and Wood Massi celebrated their 25th anniversary by finally, legally getting married. Now, on Feb. 1, 2010 he officially retired from 21 years of service to the Human Rights Commission; so his colleagues and friends threw the senior manager of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission a huge retirement party in City Hall. In the back of the South Light Court were many, many easels displaying various news pieces about Brinkin and his accomplishments.
Connie Champagne served as the lively emcee for the event, opening by singing her rendition of ‚ÄúThe Sunny Side of the Street.‚ÄĚ Champagne had the honor of working with Brinkin on the Community United Against Violence (CUAV) LGBTQ Speakers Bureau for several years.
Framed proclamations to Brinkin were presented by representatives from the offices of Senator Tom Ammiano, Senator Mark Leno, and Mayor Gavin Newsom (declaring it ‚ÄúLarry Brinkin Day‚ÄĚ). Supervisor Bevan Dufty appeared in person, giving his testimony of the many times he has called on Brinkin to solve problems in the past. Supervisor David Campos said, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not just the work Larry did for the LGBT community that we applaud; it‚Äôs what he‚Äôs done for so many other communities.‚ÄĚ As an example, Campos spoke of Brinkin‚Äôs work with immigration and sanctuary in San Francisco. ‚ÄúSan Francisco government will never be the same without you,‚ÄĚ he said. The Board of Supervisors officially declared it ‚ÄúLarry Brinkin Week.‚ÄĚ SF Human Rights Commission presented a certificate of recognition as well. Brinkin received as a retirement gift two tickets to the Mexican Riviera aboard the Sapphire ship. ‚ÄúYou know, I‚Äôve done a lot of cruising, but I‚Äôve never been on a cruise,‚ÄĚ Brinkin jested.
Cecilia Chung, chair of the SF Human Rights Commission, spoke directly to Brinkin, calling him ‚Äúthe uncle I never had.‚ÄĚ She said his smile was infectious and highly disarming, ‚Äúeven those times I didn‚Äôt agree with you.‚ÄĚ She said she first met Brinkin in 1993, when SFHRC was holding a hearing about transgender people in which Brinkin was a fierce advocate and ‚Äútransgender people had doors opened to them.‚ÄĚ Chung additionally lauded him for his advocacy for LGBT people, Native Americans, and inter-sex people. She added, ‚ÄúWithout Larry, we wouldn‚Äôt have domestic partnership and the equal benefits ordinance, setting these great examples for the rest of the country.‚ÄĚ She concluded, ‚ÄúLarry, you are a great teacher and a visionary.‚ÄĚ
Theresa Sparks, executive director of the SFHRC, has known Brinkin for approximately 12 years. She credited Brinkin for several accomplishments: getting equal benefits for elevator operators and repairers, which is now nationwide for domestic partners; making sure immigrant youth had protected civil rights; assuring queer homeless have a place to sleep at night; dealing with environmental racism in the Bayview; and securing transgender city employees with health benefits. Sparks said Brinkin helped form a subcommittee to deal with how 50% of all violence against transgender people in the City had been conducted at the hands of law enforcement. ‚ÄúThis is a person who changed the lives of millions of people,‚ÄĚ she said of Brinkin.
Cynthia Goldstein, executive director of the San Francisco Board of Appeals, worked with Brinkin for many years. ‚ÄúI know that Larry is fond of things that are quirky and unusual, so I decided to deliver my comments in a limerick,‚ÄĚ she announced, and then joked, ‚ÄúFor those of you whose minds immediately went to the gutter, I want to reassure that nowhere in my comments will the word, ‚ÄėNantucket,‚Äô appear.‚ÄĚ She then proceeded to cleverly rhyme her praise. One line in example: ‚ÄúThis is just one of his battles of the many false chains that he‚Äôs rattled; with his justice at hand, he‚Äôll jump up, take a stand, and prejudice he will dismantle.‚ÄĚ She called him ‚Äúan out, proud pioneer.‚ÄĚ
Brinkin had a son, Ben Kelly-Blum, with two mothers, Debra Kelly and Laura Blum. Ben gave a brilliant summation of his father, ‚Äúthe hot-shot leader,‚ÄĚ saying Brinkin always did the best job at everything, including being a dad. ‚ÄúNo matter what the situation, who he‚Äôs with, or where he‚Äôs at, you will always know what he thinks,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúHe also knows some pretty cool, interesting people, who most of you here are.‚ÄĚ
Brinkin wiped away tears of joy, and then made his remarks. ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt read all your nametags, so I can‚Äôt thank everyone I‚Äôd like to thank,‚ÄĚ he joked. He mentioned how proud he was that Sparks and Chung were ‚Äútwo transgender women leading the Human Rights Commission of San Francisco. ‚ÄúThey are both good friends and mentors to me,‚ÄĚ he said. He had all the present and former staff of SFHRC stand up to be thanked and appreciated. He said Goldstein and he had worked together for 18 years, ‚Äúthrough lots of very difficult times and lots of wonderful victories.‚ÄĚ He said, ‚ÄúI love this woman to the depths of my soul.‚ÄĚ Those are just a few of the many people Brinkin gave thanks to.
He especially thanked his partner, Wood Massi ‚Äď now his legal spouse ‚Äď as ‚Äúalways so loving, brilliant, supportive, and strong.‚ÄĚ Brinkin said, ‚ÄúWhen I was a little boy, I dreamed of growing up and meeting someday a man who was really, really smart and really aware of issues and great political, social values; and Wood is my dream man.‚ÄĚ Brinkin also acknowledged his son Ben as ‚Äúalmost perfect, so sweet and kind and loving and so smart and perceptive.‚ÄĚ He thanked the two moms for the way Ben turned out as a testament of their excellent parenting.
He concluded with his long list of plans after retirement ‚Äď too numerous to write here. But he said, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve always wanted to earn my living working for human rights, and this has been my dream job.‚ÄĚ He said, ‚ÄúMost of us toil as activists and get no payment at all; but I‚Äôve been able to earn a good living helping further the cause of civil rights for so many wonderful colleagues both at work and in the community.‚ÄĚ He said, ‚ÄúI feel I am so fortunate to have been given that opportunity.‚ÄĚ
Closing the ceremony, Champagne led everyone in singing Brinkin‚Äôs husband‚Äôs favorite song, ‚ÄúSomewhere Over the Rainbow‚ÄĚ with those special words: ‚Äúthe dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.‚ÄĚ