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social sciences

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As with Acanfora and Gish, when Gaylord appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the court refused to hear the case.

Save Our Children

In January 1977, former Miss America finalist and Florida Orange Juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant attended a church service at the North Miami, Florida, Northwest Baptist Church to hear Reverend William "Brother Bill" Chapman focus on a proposed Dade County ordinance that included protections for homosexuals against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. According to Bryant, she felt that "God put a flame in my heart," so when Chapman urged Bryant to use her celebrity to help defeat the ordinance, Bryant threw herself into the controversy, expecting to persuade the County Commissioners to shelve the proposal.

Sponsor Message.

When the County Commissioners passed the ordinance anyway, Bryant, with the help of her husband, Bob Green, and Chapman, formed the "Save Our Children" organization to overturn the ordinance by referendum. Financial support poured in from all over the country, and Dade County became the setting for the first confrontation between the fundamentalist religious movement and the emerging glbtq movement for equality.

The Save Our Children campaign portrayed gay men and lesbians as being involved in a national conspiracy that was anti-God, anti-country, and anti-decency. As the title of the organization indicated, the presumption was that homosexuals--including especially teachers--posed a serious threat to the nation's children.

After a five-month campaign, on June 7, 1977, the Dade County Gay Rights Ordinance was repealed by a large majority. Bryant announced that Save Our Children would conduct a national campaign against homosexuality.

The Briggs Initiative

During 1977 and 1978, the Save Our Children campaign successfully lobbied to repeal homosexual rights ordinances in Dade County, Florida; Eugene, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Wichita, Kansas. These successful campaigns inspired right-wing state senators in California and Oklahoma to introduce state-wide laws targeted at gay and lesbian teachers.

John Briggs, as part of his plan to run for the governorship of California, introduced Proposition Six (also known as the Briggs Initiative) in California. The Briggs Initiative called for the firing of any school employee who was found to be "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging, or promoting private or public homosexual activity directed at, or likely to come to the attention of schoolchildren and/or other employees."

Although originally introduced for the November 1977 ballot, the Briggs Initiative came before the voters in November 1978. At first, it seemed that the Initiative would be easily approved. However, by late September support for the initiative began to wane.

The National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the California Teachers Association all opposed Proposition Six. Moreover, newly elected San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk put together an effective coalition of unions and other progressive organizations and individuals to oppose the Initiative, and effectively debated Briggs throughout the state. Larry Berner, a well-liked second-grade teacher from Healdsburg, also debated Briggs.

But probably the most significant opposition to the measure came from former Governor Ronald Reagan, who declared that it had "the potential for real mischief," and that California's laws were already sufficient to punish any teacher who flaunted his or her sexuality or harmed children.

On November 7, 1978, California voters defeated Proposition Six by a two to one margin.

However, Oklahoma state senator Mary Helm introduced a bill with the same wording as the Briggs Initiative in the Oklahoma legislature, where it overwhelmingly passed and quickly became law.

Oklahoma judges succeeding in delaying direct challenges to the Helm Bill until 1984, when the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, finally ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The State of Oklahoma appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which, in January 1985, on a 4-4 vote, failed to reach a decision. Because of the tie vote, the ruling of the Tenth Circuit was upheld.

In 1978, in the midst of the debate about the Briggs Initiative, conservative activist William Bennett wrote an article entitled "The Homosexual Teacher" for The American Educator. Bennett argued that gay and lesbian school workers should remain in the closet and that communities should decide what values are conveyed in schools. He argued that teachers who were "overt" should not be teaching in public schools.

The Gay Teachers Association of New York responded to Bennett's article, rebutting each of his remarks, but when Bennett became Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Education, he exerted tremendous influence over national education policy.

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