America’s leading LGBT rights organisation has paid tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who has died aged 77.

“The nation has lost its greatest champion and strongest voice for justice, fairness, and compassion,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“The loss to our community is immeasurable.

“There was no greater hero for advocates of LGBT equality than Senator Ted Kennedy.

“From the early days of the AIDS epidemic, to our current struggle for marriage equality he has been our protector, our leader, our friend.

“He has been the core of the unfinished quest for civil rights in this country and there is now a very painful void.

“Our hearts go out to the Kennedy family.”

Senator Kennedy was the last of one of the most famous sets of brothers in US history.

Two were assassinated: President John F Kennedy in 1963 and former Attorney-General and Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy in 1968. His oldest brother Joe was killed in action in World War Two.

Edward Kennedy had represented Massachusetts in the US Senate since 1962 and was a strong supporter of gay rights, most recently he had been calling for an end to the ban on gays in the military.

He also introduced legislation to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes where the victims were targeted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability.

Senator Kennedy, who ran for President in 1980, is also remembered for his unrelenting fight for funding into AIDS research, at a time when conservatives were painting it as a “gay plague.”

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that works to increase the number of LGBT people in elected office, mourned his death.

“Good men serve others but great men take care to serve the least fortunate,” Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe said.

“Senator Kennedy was a great man.

“He made a career of fighting for the poor, for women, for racial minorities, and for basic human rights for LGBT Americans.

“Senator Kennedy‚Äôs life was marked by generosity and a legendary tenacity that earned him the respect of his colleagues and the affection of the public he served.

“But he will always occupy a special place in the hearts of LGBT Americans, who saw in him a fierce champion for their full equality.”