Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From the June Mazer Lesbian Archives: Lesbian Schoolworker Records

In 1978, Proposition 6 was presented on the California State ballot. This initiative, proposed by conservative legislator John Briggs as well as California Defend Our Children (CDOC), and later nicknamed the Briggs Initiative, rallied to ban gays and lesbians from teaching within the public school system. This later extended to possibly include any supporters of gays or lesbians as "advocates of homosexuality." A CDOC pamphlet in circulation at the time argued that the purpose of the initiative would not deny gays or lesbians their human rights, but instead “protect the rights of innocent children from people who choose their position as a teacher,” maintaining that “there is no inherent right for an individual to hold a teaching job.”

One of the first (and smallest) collections I processed was the Lesbian Schoolworkers Records, which contains information regarding organizational history, principles of unity and structure, press releases, newsletters, flyers, paste-ups, and photographs. With a commitment to "fighting racism, sexism, class, and oppression within our own movement and this society," the group organized in 1977 to defeat Propositions 6 and 7. While this organization was among the many to rally against the bill, it also actively campaigned against anti-lesbian and pro-death penalty laws and sought to identify the relationship between Third World oppression and the oppression of all lesbians. Throughout the election fight, the Schoolworkers emphasized that the struggle was not about a single campaign issue or even a fight for civil rights, but instead proclaimed “that we are all suffering at the hands of a common enemy."

Comprising a core group of 20 and over 70 participants, the Schoolworkers planned educational activities, sponsored cultural events, and produced leaflets and newsletters aimed at defeating the legislation and educating voters. Representatives often went before various civic groups, councils, and educational organizations to speak against the measures, and were notorious for their slideshow, "Don't Let It Happen Here." Designed to inform others of the dangers of the Briggs Initiatives, the slideshow drew together crucial struggles over abortion, the death penalty, and oppression of women and lesbians. Amber Hollibaugh, a political activist from San Francisco, traveled throughout small but crucial Northern California towns presenting the slideshow and participating in public debates.

The collection includes material about pro- and anti-Briggs organizations; a San Francisco Board of Education study on the possibility of including "gay lifestyle" into school curriculum in family and health studies; and a Oregon State Task Force of 1977 report that collected "information on homosexual men and women in Oregon in order to make recommendations on legislation and administrative policies that would ensure the civil rights of all Oregonians."

In end, the Briggs Initiative failed miserably, even after first receiving overwhelming support. With help from Harvey Milk, public opinion was soon swayed; groups seen as traditionally heterosexual, such as the trade union movement, the teachers’ associations and unions, child-care workers, health-care workers, and even churches, largely opposed Proposition 6 in end. While the defeat of the Briggs Initiative did not solve the discrimination of California’s gay and lesbian citizens, it did for the first time—as explained by Hollibaugh in a 1979 interview—“expose sexual dynamics as central in this society” by discussing homophobia as an intrusion of basic human rights.

—Kimberlee Granholm

Kimberlee Granholm is a Graduate Student Researcher at UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

The finding aid for this collection is available for viewing at the Online Archive of California (http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8wq04k3/?query=lesbian+schoolworkers). Digitized materials from the collection and the finding aid will be available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections website. This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, “Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles,” with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW Director and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s.

For more information on this project, visit http://www.csw.ucla.edu/research/projects/making-invisible-histories-visible
For more information on the activities of the Mazer, visit http://www.mazerlesbianarchives.org

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