* originally posted October 16, 2009
The Brigg's Initiative, also known as Prop 6, was placed on the ballot in California in time for the November 1978 election. Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County, the initiative sought to ban gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools; teachers, counselors, nurses, administrators, secretaries, janitors would all be subjected to questions about their orientation and their views on gay rights and fired. The initiative stated that any teacher who was found to be “advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting” homosexual activity could be fired. The Briggs Initiative was the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a ballot measure, and came on the heels of Anita Bryant's successful Save Our Children campaign in South Florida, which overturned a local gay rights ordinance designed to protect the Civil Rights of the LGBT community.
That success, if you will, sparked additional efforts to repeal legislation that added sexual orientation, or preference as it was thought of back then, as a protected group to anti-discrimination statutes and codes. In a step beyond simple repeal of anti-discrimination measures, Oklahoma and Arkansas banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.
With the focus now on California's LGBT teachers and their supporters, the gay and lesbian community got organized. A huge coalition of progressive grassroots activists formed a campaign led by Gwen Craig and Bill Krause, who were appointed to their positions by San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, teacher, and later Supervisor of SF Board of Supervisors, Tom Ammiano, activist Hank Wilson, and many others, under the slogan "Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" This group mobilized the community up and down the state, and around the country to work toward defeat of prop 6. In what became the "No on 6" campaign, members of the LGBT community went door-to-door in their cities and towns across the state to talk about the harm the initiative would cause.
Gay men and lesbians came out to their families and their neighbors and their co-workers; they spoke in their churches and community centers, sent letters to their local editors, and otherwise revealed to the general population that gay people really were "everywhere" and included people they already knew and cared about.
In the beginning of September, the ballot measure was ahead in public-opinion polls, with about 61% of voters supporting. The "No on 6" campaign initially succeeded little in shifting public opinion, but by the end of the month the balance of the polls shifted to 45% in favor of the Briggs Initiative, 43% opposed, and 12% undecided.
Many gay Republicans also became organized against the initiative on a grassroots level, and it was at this time that the Log Cabin Republicans was founded in California, as a rallying point for Republicans opposed to the Briggs Initiative. The Log Cabin Club then lobbied Republican officials to oppose the measure.
Even former California Governor Ronald Reagan publicly opposed the measure and issued an informal letter of opposition to the initiative, answered reporters' questions about the initiative by saying he was against, and, a week before the election, wrote an editorial in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner opposing it. The timing of Reagan's opposition is significant because he was then preparing to run for president, a race in which he would need the support of conservatives and moderates who were very uncomfortable with homosexual teachers. As Reagan biographer Lou Cannon noted, Reagan was “well aware that there were those who wanted him to duck the issue” but nevertheless “chose to state his convictions.”
Ronald Reagan: “Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this.”
And then-President Jimmy Carter publicly spoke out against the initiative, becoming the first US president to openly discuss issues that affected the LGBT community.
On election day in 1978, the Briggs Initiative was defeated by more than one million votes. The anticipated landslide for the initiative became a landslide against the initiative, losing even in Orange County, in the largest shift of public opinion ever recorded within such a short time frame.
The Briggs Initiative remains one of the greatest losses the conservative movement ever faced, and if we, as a community, could do it back then, we can do it today. We need to do as Harvey and Tom Ammiano, Hank Wilson, Bill Krause and Gwen Craig asked us to do then: "Come Out! Come Out! Wherever you are!"
The march goes on.
On This Day In LGBT History
October 16, 1856 – Oscar Wilde is born in Dublin. Great writer, greater wit, gay martyr.
October 16, 1975 – During a raid on a Hollywood gay porn theatre the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles was arrested.
October 16, 1987 – AIDS quilt organizer Cleve Jones was named “Person of the Year” by ABC anchorman Peter Jennings.
October 16, 1993 – OutRage attended the Anti-Nazi League/Anti-Racist Alliance march in Plumstead England.