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California Proposition 6 was an initiative on the Californiamarker State ballot on November 7, 1978, and was more commonly known as The Briggs Initiative. Sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange Countymarker, the failed initiative would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. The Briggs Initiative was the first failure in a conservative movement that started with the successful campaign headed by Anita Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Floridamarker to repeal a local gay rights ordinance.

Proposition 6 is a central plot point in the 2008 film Milk.


Singer and Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant received national news coverage for her successful efforts to repeal a Dade County, Floridamarker ordinance preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. This success sparked additional efforts to repeal legislation that added sexual orientation or preference as a protected group to anti-discrimination statutes and codes. In a step beyond repeal of anti-discrimination measures, Oklahomamarker and Arkansasmarker banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.

The idea for the Briggs Initiative was formed during the success of the repeal of the Dade County anti-discrimination language. The initiative stated that any teacher who was found to be “advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting” homosexual activity could be fired. It was the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a ballot measure.


Hurting from recent losses, the gay and lesbian community got organized. A huge coalition of predominantly progressive grassroots activists was formed into a campaign led by Gwen Craig and Bill Krause, who were appointed to their positions by openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, teacher (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!", mobilized to defeat the initiative. In what became the "No on 6" campaign, gay men and lesbians 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, 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 it while 31% opposed it. The movement against it initially succeeded little in shifting public opinion, even though major organizations and ecclesiastical groups opposed it. By the end of the month, however, the balance of the polls shifted to 45% in favor of the initiative, 43% opposed, and 12% undecided.

Some gay Republicans also became organized against the initiative on a grassroots level. The most prominent of these, the Log Cabin Republicans, was founded in 1977 in Californiamarker, as a rallying point for Republicans opposed to the Briggs Initiative. The Log Cabin Club then lobbied Republican officials to oppose the measure.

The former state Governor (and later US President) Ronald Reagan moved to publicly oppose the measure. Reagan 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 Lou Cannon (Reagan biographer) puts it, Reagan was “well aware that there were those who wanted him to duck the issue” but nevertheless “chose to state his convictions.” Extensive excerpts from his informal statement were reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle of September 24, 1978. Reagan's November 1 editorial stated, in part, “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.”

It is notable that politicians as diverse as Reagan, Gerald Ford, and (at the end of the campaign) then-president Jimmy Carter all opposed the bill.

Shortly before the election, after the polls had changed in the opponents' favor due to the mobilization of thousands of activists across the political spectrum, the 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 initiative was defeated on November 7, 1978 and even lost in Briggs’ own Orange County, a stronghold of conservatism in the state.

See also


External links

  • California Ballot Propositions Database from University of California Hastings College of the Law Library, a comprehensive, searchable source of information on California ballot propositions from 1911 to the present

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