Long lost photos of Harvey Milk debating, Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County, on Sept. 15, 1978, at Northgate High School 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 unearthed.
The photos below were 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 Reagan, Jerry Brown, Gerald 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.
The Briggs Initiative was soundly defeated on Nov. 7, 1978, losing by more than a million votes.
Thank you, Harvey Milk.