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LARRY BERNER, California Teacher: They`re after my job. When Senator Briggs was in Healdsburg last month several teachers and parents from this community reminded him that I`ve always been an excellent teacher, and his comment was, "Well, that`s beside the point." Well, that is the point, because it`s my job that he`s after.
JOHN BRIGGS, California State Senator: He is not in there teaching second grade curriculum, he`s in there teaching a value now. He is in there as a living, shining example of a homosexual second grade schoolteacher, not only to second grade teachers -- I mean children -third grade knows it, fourth grade knows it, fifth grade knows it.
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. California, the land of tinsel and gold, has also become the land of revolt and propositions. Last June it was Proposition 13, the now famous anti-tax vote that has reshaped the face of contemporary American politics. Now it`s something called Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative, to be voted on a week from today in California. The target this time is homosexual teachers, and emotions and campaign budgets are running high and so are predictions on what the national fallout will be if it passes. There are legal disputes over what exactly Proposition 6 would do, but its purpose clearly is to keep homosexuals from teaching in California schools. It comes amid a wave of anti-gay votes and measures around the country, but this is the first statewide referendum on the issue. So tonight, a look at what`s happening in California and at what, if anything, it says about a reshaping of contemporary American views of homosexuality. Robert MacNeil is off; Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in the studios of Public Station KQED, San Francisco. Charlayne?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Jim, as you might imagine with such a controversial issue, the atmosphere is highly emotional, as you Said, and confusion reigns. The confusion is reflected in the opinion polls. In August the California poll found sixty-one percent of the public in favor of the initiative, but by late September "yes" reponses were down to forty-five percent, with forty-three percent opposed and twelve percent undecided. A last-minute media blitz is being waged by both sides trying to win the hearts and minds of that twelve percent, whose attitudes may be summed up by the Los Angeles housewife who says, "I don`t want my kids to grow up to be homosexuals, but I`m opposed to any type of discrimination." The educated guessers are saying that there`s an even chance now for either side, and indeed the difficulty of calling the vote has been heightened by the fact that the forces are not split along traditional lines. The issue has made allies of such strange bedfellows as Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, both of whom are against the proposed amendment. But clergy, parents and teachers are still divided. Proposition 6 has indeed emerged as the hottest issue in this campaign. The principal backers are from the evangelical movement. Rob Wilson of KQED prepared this background report:
Mrs. LEE LEE, Healdsburg School Board: We have a second grade teacher who uses his status to flaunt his homosexuality to our schoolchildren. The parents petitioned my school board. Our lawyer told us under current law there is nothing we can do about this problem.
SPEAKER: California needs a new law that will restore the right of parents, through their local school boards, to keep our classrooms from being used to teach our children that homosexuality is good. Proposition 6 is that law. What teachers do in private is their business, but what they teach our children is our business. Vote yes on Proposition 6. Paid-or by "Yes on ANONYMOUS TEACHER: I`m a public school teacher. I`m married and I have three kids. I believe in my country and in the Constitution. I also believe that what adults - other adults -- do in the privacy of their home is okay. You can`t see my face, because if Proposition 6 passes, I could be fired for saying what I just said. Fired for that one statement. And I need my job.
SPEAKER: Proposition 6. It`s not just dumb ... it`s dangerous.
ROB WILSON, KQED, Reporting: Proposition 6, sponsored and actively promoted by California State Senator John Briggs, a Republican from Fullerton -- on its surface a very simple proposition: do you or don`t you want homosexuals teaching your children?
TOM AMMIANO, Teacher: Sometimes he makes a mistake. What did he do here? Monticello, look, what did he do here? Huh? He brought back the.... Who`s that person?
CHILD:A man.
AMMIANO: A policeman. He brought back the policeman because he was holding on to his stick. Put your hands over your eyes, let`s count. One...
AMMIANO AND CHILDREN:...two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight...
WILSON: Much of the motivation behind Senator Briggs` initiative comes from his fundamentalist Christian religion, and in that he is not alone. The Centra Baptist Church of Pomona, California is one of the largest congregations of fundamentalist Christians in the nation. It is the wellspring of Senator Briggs` support. Its pastor, the Reverend Ray Badema, is co-chairman of the "Yes on 6" campaign.
Rev. RAY BADEMA, Co-Chairman, "Yes on 6": By their estimates in Los Angeles County there are between four and six thousand teachers that are homosexual. Out of that four to six thousand homosexual teachers, if there be that many, there are, I think, thirty-one who are public in the classroom about it, the rest of them are in the closet, so to speak. Well, frankly, I don`t believe that homosexuals have ever been in the closets. I`ve never opened up a closet and seen one of them. Have you?
(Laughter from congregation.)
BADEMA: I`ll tell you what, dear friends, it`s not the homosexual that`s in the closet, it`s their sin that`s in the closet.
AMMIANO: I`ve been a teacher for over ten years, and I`ve always had a good rapport with parents, and I`ve al ways seemed to have success with my students; and I really feel impugned by Proposition 6, I feel like it`s dealing with me as a gay person as a sexual being, not a human being, and I get real angry at that. It seems to me that`s a real cheap shot to come and attack my work when people don`t know who I am or the kind of work I do.
BARBARA DELLANAGRA, Parent: I have three daughters, and I`m very concerned that teachers in school should teach them skills and factual information rather than values. Advocating homosexuality as an acceptable alternate life style is not only an invasion of the child`s privacy but is also usurping the authority of the parent over his children. The parent has a God-given authority and responsibility to rear his child according to standards that are acceptable to God.
SUZANNE HARRIS, Parent: I picked this school because I came to visit and Tom was the first teacher that I met, and we spoke at length; and I chose the school because I thought that he would be a really good teacher. And as it turns out, that was the case. My daughter loves the school, and the children all have very good relationships with Tom, and I think the stand that he`s taking is really very important and courageous and I`m behind him a hundred percent. It would be our loss if we lost him as a teacher.
RAOUL TIELHART, California Federation of Teachers: This proposition is a massive violation of every school employee`s civil liberties, certificated and classified, teacher and administrator. For example, if I were a teacher in a classroom and any student would ask a question about homosexuality, which is of great interest to young teenagers emerging into modern society, my best protection would be to take the Fifth Amendment. In fact, if Proposition 6 passed, this interview could cost me my job and credential as a public school teacher in California.
HUNTER-GAULT: The ballot initiative that would require the firing of homosexual teachers is, as we said, officially known as Proposition 6. But it also bears the name of its author, John Briggs, Republican State Senator from Orange County, California. Senator Briggs, you just heard the teacher say that if your proposition passed he, even talking about the amendment, would be fired. Is that true?
JOHN BRIGGS: Well, of course it will pass, and the answer is no, it`s not true. That`s part of the propaganda that that last speaker has been putting across for the last three months; he is a paid president of the California Federation of Teachers, a union group; hasn`t taught in the classroom for ten years. But the law is not retroactive; you can`t write a law that goes backward. And not only that, but even if it goes forward, then it`s resumed. My law doesn`t even say if you`re a homosexual schoolteacher and you admit it that you would be fired.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what exactly does your law...
BRIGGS: The law is very clear, if people would take the time and trouble to read the ballot pamphlet, here in California in particular.
HUNTER-GAULT: Could you just summarize it for us?
BRIGGS: What it says, it does not call for the mass firing of homosexuals. But what it does say is that it is going to give to the school boards in California real authority they do not have now to remove from the classroom any teacher -- any teacher -- who deviates from the curriculum and in the opinion of the board is unfit to teach because that teacher is pushing homosexuality to the point that the school board believes that they could make it hold up in court, that what that teacher was really doing was advocating homosexuality as an alternative life style or encouraging a child to try the actual act of homosexuality.
If the board believed that and if the board was willing to go to court over it -- because they would have to go there and have a very good case -- then they could find that teacher unfit to teach.
HUNTER-GAULT: Your amendment states that the initiative applies to public homosexual conduct or public homosexual activity. What do you mean by "public homosexual conduct"?
BRIGGS: Well, public homosexual conduct could be a situation where two men are engaged in a sexual act in the park, two teachers as an example. It could mean a sexual act in the privacy of somebody`s home; like in Orange County one teacher orally copulated twenty men, and the judge found later, after a long trial, that that school board, through the procedure we operate under, had the authority to remove that teacher, even though it was done in private.
HUNTER-GAULT: But that authority exists already. Are there not laws on the books already that would take care of the problems that you`re concerned about?
BRIGGS: No, because under my law we are going to the position of advocacy. I`m not too much concerned about child molestation; that of course is illegal. We`re talking about advocacy. The State of California, according to my initiative, finds that the fundamental interest`-is in the family and we must protect the family; and that if a teacher whom we give a license to teach wants to take the liberty of advocating homosexuality to schoolchildren, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, the school board may find that teacher unfit to teach if they feel they have a strong enough case that they could prove it in court.
HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you. Can you just briefly tell me why you focused on teachers?
BRIGGS: Yes, I think that`s a good question, and I welcome it. I believe that we give teachers a license, like we give doctors and insurance brokers and other people a license, to serve the public. And in as much as teachers who advocate homosexuality are advocating to a family group, a non- lifestyle way of living, that society should have the right to remove from the classroom that type of teacher.
HUNTER-GAULT: You mean a non-traditional life style.
BRIGGS: Well, an alternative life style. You know, I don`t believe in that life style, I don`t think it should be advocated to our children. But I think the better question is, what about doctors and what about lawyers and what about politicians and newscasters and so forth? We are all adults. I could get up and walk out of this studio right now, I don`t have to do business with you, regardless of your sexual persuasion. But parents are forced to send their child into that classroom. And when I take my child to the school door and drop him off at the curb, I`m substituting that teacher for me, and I think 4the Supreme Court has ruled many, many times that parents have the ultimate right on who will be teaching their children.
HUNTER-GAULT: All right; we`ll come back in a moment. Some of the most vocal opposition to Senator Briggs` initiative has come from those whose ranks would be directly affected by passage of the Briggs amendment, the teachers` union. Joan-Marie Shelley is vice president of the San Francisco local and co-chairman of the "No on 6" Committee for Northern California. Ms. Shelley, why are you leading the fight against Proposition 6?
JOAN-MARIE SHELLEY: Well, as a full-time teacher myself and as the extracurricular vice president of the teachers` union in San Francisco, I of course have great concern about Proposition 6. I see it as a threat to all teachers because it singles out teachers for a particular invasion of privacy and a particular violation of constitutional rights of free speech. I very. firmly believe that the only conduct on the part of a teacher that is a legitimate concern of the state is that conduct which affects the teacher`s professional performance in the classroom and that conduct which involves his or her relationships with students, and there are currently adequate state laws regulating a teacher`s behavior in these areas and I would therefore find Proposition 6 at best unnecessary and at worst very damaging. Damaging in the sense that it creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which is destructive of the morale that is essential to running an effective school system.
HUNTER-GAULT: What about the aspect of the law the senator talked about, the advocacy portion?
SHELLEY: Well, it`s the advocacy portion that I find most alarming; that`s the sense in which the law is a threat to all of us who teach, because simply advocating equal rights for homosexuals could become the cause of an investigation and a possible dismissal; and that`s the part of the law that I find a real threat to our constitutional rights.
HUNTER-GAULT: Does the teaching community speak with one voice on this issue?
SHELLEY: Every teacher`s organization has taken a stand against Proposition 6. For example, the San Francisco Federation of Teachers, of which I`m the vice president, early on took a stand against it, the California Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers have all condemned Proposition 6. But lest you think that it`s a subject of rivalry between competing teacher organizations, let me point out to you that the other major teacher organization, notably the National Education Association and its state and local affiliates, the California Teachers Association and the San Francisco Classroom Teachers Association, have all also condemned Proposition 6.
HUNTER-GAULT: What about parents? What kind of feedback are you getting from parents?
SHELLEY: Well, I haven`t talked with large numbers of parents. I can think, for example, of one parent I talked with the other night who shared with me her thinking on the subject. She said she was very concerned about the fact that the kind of publicity that the "Yes on 6" people have been using during this campaign has done more in its sensationalism to expose children to homosexuality in its most sordid and graphic aspects than anything that any homosexual teacher could possibly manage to do.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what kinds of problems have homosexual teachers presented in your experience?
SHELLEY: Well, I`ve taught for twenty-three years in San Francisco; I began in 1955 and I must say that in that span of time I have never once known of any kind of problem involving a homosexual teacher in the class room or in relation to his or her students, so I can`t imagine what the big deal is or why there`s such concern on the part of Senator Briggs and his supporters.
HUNTER-GAULT: What is the big deal, Senator Briggs? Violation of free speech is what Mrs. Shelley thinks.
BRIGGS: Well, she cites the First Amendment of the violation of -the First Amendment has free speech rights in it; in the First Amendment it also has the right of citizens to petition the government for a re dress of their grievances, and in Healdsburg, California 300 parents did just that, they petitioned their school board to remove from the classroom a teacher they believed was using his classroom to flaunt and to promote homosexuality, his homosexuality, and they wanted that teacher removed. They were told by the school board they couldn`t do it, that they had no authority; they needed a new law. And Proposition 6 is that new law. And I think she`s hit it right on the head; she talks about classroom conduct. Most teachers want to be judged only by their classroom conduct in the job that they do. I think that`d be nice. But we don`t let alcoholics teach, we don`t let prostitutes teach. It`s illegal to be a prostitute in the State of California on Saturday afternoon and then brag about it and go back in the classroom on Monday; you will be fired. But you can do that as a homosexual.
HUNTER-GAULT: Ms. Shelley, do you think that homosexuals are going to brag about their conduct in classes?
SHELLEY: I have never known any homosexual teacher who was not most circumspect in his or her conduct. I would remind you once again that in relation to this law the provision is for dismissing teachers for activity that has never been found criminal; to cite a parallel with activity that is criminal, such as prostitution, for example, is an unfair and ridiculous analogy.
HUNTER-GAULT: Senator Briggs?
BRIGGS: Well, but my question be -- she`s talking about classroom conduct. Are you telling me that when we legalize prostitution in California you`re going to stand up for the rights of prostitutes to teach as well as since we`ve decriminalized homosexuality you`re going to stand up for the rights of prostitutes to teach children?
SHELLEY: I am certainly not. I am simply...
BRIGGS:...for homosexuals, now three years ago it was illegal to a homosexual. Were you for homosexuals teaching then?
SHELLEY: I will not be browbeaten by you, Senator. I will respond to the first question you put. The question you put had to do with firing teachers for activity that is not criminal. In the State of California, sexual activity involving consenting adults is not criminal activity. I think it is therefore totally inappropriate to try to use that as a grounds for the dismissal of teachers.
BRIGGS: Well...
HUNTER-GAULT: Senator, let me just ask you on the question of advocacy; Ms. Shelley is concerned that teachers who simply, not espouse homosexuality but articulate concerns about what is happening to homosexuals will also be fired. Some teachers have said that this will lead to a witch hunt.
BRIGGS: Well, that`s totally untrue. The law is very clear. What it says is if you`re going to go into a classroom and do a good job teaching what you`ve been hired to teach, you can be a homosexual, an asexual, bisexual or heterosexual and you can have it tattooed on your forehead if you want to. But if in the opinion of the school board what you are attempting to convey in that classroom is homosexuality as an alternative life style, the school board may remove you. Now, here in San Francisco the school board may be a lot more lenient as to what they consider to be advocating homosexuality. They may not take any action at all; it is up to each and every local school district. What plays in San Francisco will not play in, let`s say, Fresno, California, or in Healdsburg, California. And I think the local school boards should have that right.
And I`m going to just make one statement, I`ll close. School boards are the only -- the only-- governing body in California that do not have the right to fire people they hire. The legislature took that away. And one of the reasons teachers are opposed to it is they are afraid the school boards are also going to get the opportunity to get back some of that power and possibly even begin to remove incompetent teachers. And that`s why they are so frantic in the opposition, because they are opposed to local control; and this is a local control bill.
HUNTER-GAULT: All right; thank you, Senator. Jim?
LEHRER: The California situation is not happening in isolation. In the last two years four cities have repealed ordinances prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals; the first, of course, was in Dade County, Florida and was led by singer Anita Bryant. Seattle, Washington has a similar vote coming up next Tuesday. Steps are in the works or have been taken legislatively in Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Jersey which gays also consider to be anti-homosexual. The question is what it all adds up to in terms of national attitudes toward homosexuality. Al Klassen, a sociologist, is the senior author of a recent study on the subject done by the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. Does your study reflect what the attitude of the average American is toward homosexuality right now?
ALBERT KLASSEN: Well, first of all, I wouldn`t want to talk about "the average American". We need to understand ourselves as sub populations, as different kinds of people in many ways. And our study suggests that the kind of talk that we`ve been seeing in this program so far, in which we see the word "homosexual" used to categorize people and then talk about them as though they were all alike, is a very widespread process, and it has the content of many assumptions about what all these homosexuals are like. And in behavioral research we refer to this as stereotyping.It`s a very complicated thing in which many assumptions are being made about everybody you can cram into a category. This kind of stereotyping about homosexuals is probably true in a very solid way for maybe something like fifty to sixty percent of our adult population.
LEHRER: In a nutshell, what is that stereotype?
KLASSEN: It assumes that homosexuals are intent on molesting children, that they would be dangerous as schoolteachers or youth leaders, it assumes that there is something inherently obscene and vulgar about homosexuals, it assumes that allowing homosexuality in society could cause the downfall of our society. And then it goes on to say that since all of these things are assumed to be true that we must therefore deprive homosexuals of the rights that might...
LEHRER: And you say fifty to sixty percent of the adult population believes in those stereotypes.
KLASSEN: Their minds are solidly dovetailed into this kind of stereotyping process.
LEHRER: Does your study reflect whether that`s a change, or has that always been basically the feeling of fifty or sixty percent of the people?
KLASSEN: It`s probably somewhere between seventy or eighty percent who feel negatively towards homosexuals. From this fifty or sixty percent who are really solid, what I call stereotype bearers in our culture, addition to that there are another twenty-five percent or so who bear a part of the stereotype and tend also to fear that there might be child molesting. There are only nineteen or twenty percent who refuse to stereotype, who insist on looking at homosexuals as individuals.
LEHRER: I see. Any particular clues as to why there`s sudden public backlash now, the litany that I just went through beginning with Dade County and now we have the California situation?
KLASSEN : I don`t see it so much as a backlash, although there are some of the characteristics of feeling threatened and angry at even having to contemplate something like homosexuality on the part of stereo typing people. But I see it now as a matter of some of the efforts concerning gay rights having been like someone knocked on the door and said, "May I come in?" and began to come in until people whose traditions were offended and whose stereotypes were stirred by seeing who was at the door, got the door slammed in their face.
LEHRER: To oversimplify it, when the gays came out of the closet that also caused those with strong anti-gay feelings to also come out of the closet, is that what you`re saying?
KLASSEN: That`s one way of saying it, yes.
LEHRER: Is that true in your case, Senator Briggs? Do you think you would be here, who you are today, if it had not been for the public active pro- gay rights movement in the first place?
BRIGGS: Who knows? I don`t know. I`m also the author of Proposition 70, a very tough death penalty, here in California. My views on this haven`t changed over a period of years; and frankly, I may surprise you, but the whole tenor of this initiative is, gay may be okay, but not in the classroom. And that`s really the long and the short of it.
LEHRER: Ms. Shelley, you heard what Mr. Klassen just said in terms of the stereotyped views toward homosexuals. Does that bear out the people you deal with and talk to in San Francisco?
SHELLEY: Oh, I think some of those stereotypes are certainly very widespread, but I would remind you once again of my perspective, which is that this is not essentially a gay rights issue, it`s a human rights is sue and a constitutional rights issue, and I do not wish to see it defined as simply a gay rights issue. It`s much broader than that and much more fundamental than that.
LEHRER: We just have a few seconds left. Senator Briggs, if you should win on Tuesday, do you feel that this whole movement will grow and spread throughout the country, even more so?
BRIGGS: No, I don`t think there`s really going to be any denial of every person`s right to do whatever they want, but there`s a difference between liberty. and license. And nobody`s trying to deny homosexuals the right to live and be happy and earn a living. But frankly, many of us just feel, here in California and maybe perhaps the country, that this movement has gone far enough and somebody needs to draw a small, gentle moral line, to say, you know, let`s just cool it right here at the classroom door.
LEHRER: All right, we have to cool it on this program because we`re out of time. Senator Briggs, Ms. Shelley, thank you. Good night, Charlayne in San Francisco.
HUNTER-GAULT: Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Mr. Klassen, thank you. We`ll see you tomorrow night. I Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
the Briggs Initiative
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The main topic of this episode is the Briggs Initiative. The guests are Albert Klassen, John Briggs, Joan-Marie Shelley. Byline: Jim Lehrer, Charlayne Hunter-Gault
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