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Advocate Archives: 20 years ago - Briggs initiative defeated.

If the current push in the Oklahoma state legislature for a bill that would bar lesbians and gay men from working in public schools has a familiar ring, that's because it is just the latest incarnation of a 20-year-old struggle. In 1978 a critical victory for equal treatment of gays in public education came in the defeat of the so-called Briggs initiative in California.

In 1977 John Briggs, an archconservative California state senator, proposed putting an initiative on the ballot in the 1978 election that would prohibit lesbians and gay men from teaching in public schools on the grounds that gay people were "immoral." In May 1978 Briggs and his followers officially filed petitions bearing the 500,000 signatures needed to qualify his initiative for the November ballot, and the proposal officially became Proposition 6.

But gays did not take the attack lightly. They responded with a well-orchestrated campaign with supporters from around the nation speaking out against the proposition. During the months leading up to the election, activists called on gay people and their supporters in even the smallest California towns to get out and urge their neighbors to oppose such blatant discrimination. In June at a sold-out benefit concert in Santa Monica, Joan Baez, Harry Chapin, Holly Near, and Peter Yarrow raised $25,000 to fight Proposition 6.

By November pollsters figured the initiative would be defeated but only by a narrow margin. Instead, Proposition 6 went down in flames, rejected by 58% of California voters. The victory gave the national movement for lesbian and gay representation and equal rights in electoral politics much-needed inspiration. Still, as the action in Oklahoma reveals, that struggle continues today.
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Title Annotation:failed 1978 California referendum banning gays from public school jobs
Author:Romseburg, Don
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 9, 1998
Words:278
Previous Article:Needling Clinton.
Next Article:Without a parish: a straight minister loses his job and church after marrying gay and lesbian couples.
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