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Long Lost Photos of Harvey Milk Unearthed

Photos from landmark debate over gay teachers with John Briggs found almost 40 years later

Long lost photos of Harvey Milk debating, Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County,  on Sept. 15, 1978, at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. over the Briggs Initiative — a state proposition that would have made it mandatory for school boards to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers.have been found and published almost 40 years later by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Also called California Proposition 6 the initiative was on the California State ballot on November 7, 1978 The Briggs Initiative was the first failure in a movement that started with the successful campaign headed by Anita Bryant and her organization Save Our Children in Dade County, Florida, to repeal a local gay rights ordinance.

A diverse group of politicians including (shockingly) Ronald ReaganJerry BrownGerald Ford, United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, Giants owner Bob Lurie and then-president Jimmy Carter all opposed the bill.

At the debate Harvey Milk dismantled each of Briggs’ arguments with facts and shamed the senator for his most archaic talking points.

You normal people — who have a family, who have children — do you want a sexually disoriented person teaching your children?” Briggs asked, to hisses and boos from the audience..

Milk countered: “Child molesters are heterosexual, rapists are heterosexual. … Most murderers are heterosexual. Do you want those people teaching your children? You’re lying through your teeth and you know it.”

At one point, Milk asked Briggs who should be allowed to counsel a gay boy at a public high school such as Northgate.

“I would like him to go to a preacher,” Briggs responded, “or a pastor or a psychologist who could lead him out of that.”

Chronicle photographer John Storey who attended the event took dozens of pictures that were never published.

The recently discovered images, reveal a dramatic and oddly staged event. Milk and Briggs sat on school-issued chairs in the middle of the Northgate High basketball court, facing a handful of media members. The audience, made up of community members young and old, sat in the bleachers on the side.

If Briggs wins he will not stop. They never do,” Milk said during a speech at the end of the 1978 Gay Pride Parade. “Like all mad people, they are forced to go on, to prove they were right. There will be no safe ‘closet’ for any gay person.

“So break out of yours today — tear the damn thing down once and for all!”

The Briggs Initiative was soundly defeated on Nov. 7, 1978, losing by more than a million votes.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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