Monday, June 17, 2013

Researching the Briggs Initiative

This summer, I'm working on a documentary about art, activism, and Orange County's LGBT community.  My hometown of Fullerton has played a somewhat infamous role in the struggle for LGBT civil rights.  In 1978, a State Senator from Fullerton named John Briggs proposed a ballot initiative that would have allowed public schools to fire teachers for being gay.  This anti-gay history is an important component in my film, so I decided to research the Briggs Initiative (aka prop 6).

I visited the Launer Local History room of the Fullerton Public Library, to look at microfilm of Fullerton Tribune newspapers from 1978.  Looking at microfilm is a bit tedious, but I found many interesting articles.  I focused on October and November of 1978, leading up to the 1978 election and its immediate aftermath.  Here are some headlines I found, with a little about what I learned:

While John Briggs obviously drew support from the conservative/evangelical Christian community in Fullerton, I also learned that there were local religious groups who opposed him, as the following articles illustrate.

Some Christian groups even protested outside Briggs' office on Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton.

There were also local teacher's groups who were opposed to Briggs' initiative...

As was depicted in the film Milk, Briggs debated gay rights advocate Harvey Milk in Orange County (specifically Garden Grove):

They were supposed to debate at Cal State Fullerton, but Briggs cancelled and other people debated.  Briggs claimed he received a death threat.

Apparently some local Libertarians were pissed that Briggs cancelled his debate appearance, so they sued him.

I also learned that, of all the people running for county or state office in 1978 from Orange County, only one other person actually supported the initiative, William Dannemeyer, who went on to be a very vocal anti-gay politician.  See the lower right column.

But perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was that a majority of both Fullerton and Orange County residents voted AGAINST prop 6.  There were probably many factors at play here--local activists, as well as public figures like Ronald Reagan coming out against it, but still I was surprised.

Here's a zoomed-in view of the Orange County Prop 6 results (right column):

And here's the Fullerton results (see bottom):

After the defeat of Prop 6, John Briggs vowed to continue his fight against "immorality."

And local gays and lesbians partied...

Before the end of 1978, Harvey Milk would be assassinated, and the struggle for LGBT civil rights would continue, both locally and nationally.

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