Juxtaposing the Briggs Initiative

Posted: February 5th, 2016 | Columns, Featured, Out of the Archives | No Comments

By Jen LaBarbera | Out from the Archives

Since early December, Lambda Archives of San Diego’s exhibit space has been brightened by an exhibit on loan from some folks at San Diego Unified School District.

Six paintings created by San Diego students at the Youth Safe Zone at Pride 2015 now adorn our walls, accompanied by a display of photos and testimonials from students involved with Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in San Diego schools.

These beautiful and powerful materials were part of a month-long display for LGBTQ History Month at San Diego Unified’s district building.

Paintings from Gay Straight Alliance members throughout the SDUSD on display at the Archives (Courtesy Lambda Archives)

Paintings from Gay Straight Alliance members throughout the SDUSD are on display at the Archives (Courtesy Lambda Archives)

We’ve chosen to complement this exhibit with a small display of some of our own materials related to the Briggs Initiative — also known at the time as Proposition 6 — the 1978 ballot measure that, if approved, would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools.

Included in that display are “No on 6” campaign posters, newspaper clippings related to the initiative from San Diego editorial pages and internal campaign documents from Save Our Teachers, the group working against the Briggs Initiative in San Diego.

The progress highlighted by the juxtaposition of these two displays is significant; we’ve certainly come a long way from our community’s defensive position during the No on 6 campaign in 1978, to the student art and testimonials provided by middle and high school GSAs in 2015. The successful messaging used by the No on 6 campaign — deflecting attention from “the issue of homosexuality” by emphasizing free speech, separation of church and state, calling the initiative “unnecessary, dangerous, and expensive” — stand in stark contrast to some of the words on these paintings. One panel proclaims, “I am happy to be gay,” “trans is beautiful,” and “love is universal.”

No on 6 Briggs Initiative Flyer 1978While we’ve seen incredible progress since the Briggs Initiative was on that ballot in November of 1978, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Included in the exhibit materials from current students involved in the local GSAs is a collection called Student Voices, with short testimonials from middle and high school students, and many of them include calls-to-action for teachers to speak up in response to anti-LGBTQ language.

“One of the biggest problems in middle school is the use of the phrase, ‘that’s so gay’ to negatively describe something,” wrote one San Diego middle school student. “Racial slurs and other derogatory words are never allowed by teachers, but the use of ‘that’s so gay’ is always overlooked or ignored by anyone who had the power to stop it.”

We’ve been honored to host these materials from San Diego’s LGBTQ youth and GSAs for the past month. It’s not often we get a chance to juxtapose such contemporary materials with our historic collections in our exhibit space, so do stop by the Archives before the end of February to see this education- and youth-focused exhibit while it’s still here.

—Jen LaBarbera is the lead archivist at Lambda Archives of San Diego. You can reach her at

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