Monday, August 22, 2011

The Town I Live In: The Briggs Initiative

“The year was 1978, and state Sen. John Briggs (R-Fullerton) was riding high. Convinced he was on to something, he sponsored a statewide initiative that would, in essence, permit school boards to fire teachers who acknowledged their homosexuality. Even on the eve of the election that November, it was murky as to how far Proposition 6, the so-called Briggs Initiative, would go, but in October, Times staffer Robert Scheer asked Briggs if "simply being a homosexual and admitting to that fact is grounds for firing." Briggs replied: "That is correct. If you are a homosexual, publicly admitted or practicing, that is automatic grounds for the removal of a teacher or a school administrator or an aide or a counselor."

--The Los Angeles Times, 2009

I first became aware of Senator John Briggs when I saw the movie “Milk.” There was a scene in the movie where Senator Briggs was debating Harvey Milk over the so-called Briggs Initiative. Where was this debate held? In Fullerton! I was ashamed, but not surprised that the architect of one of the most anti-gay ballot measures ever would be from Fullerton. I grew up here. I know there was and still is a fair amount of anti-gay sentiment. Case in point—Proposition 8 passed. On the day of that election in 2008, Chapman Avenue was lined with “Yes on 8” posters.

Who are these anti-gay activists? Based on my experience and observations, they come largely from churches. There is a scene in “Milk” where someone asks how many signatures would be needed to put the Briggs initiative on the ballot. "Whatever it is," someone says, "they'll get it in two Sundays at church in Orange fucking County."

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