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Gavin Newsom Compares Don’t Say Gay to Attempts to Ban LGBTQ+ Teachers

Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis
Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (L) and Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California gave a history lesson on the Briggs Initiative, which sought to ban queer teachers, to his counterpart in Florida.

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom likened Florida's restrictive "don't say gay" law to his own state's 1978 Briggs Initiative that sought to prohibit queer people from working in public schools.

He also quoted from an open letter written by former president and governor Ronald Reagan in opposition to the 1978 initiative. Newsom made the remarks in Washington, D.C. yesterday as he accepted the 2022 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States.

"Teachers were under assault because God forbid, teachers were homosexual," Newsom said at the awards ceremony, referencing the failed ballot initiative.

Newsom was criticizing Florida's Parental Rights in Education law (commonly known as "don't say gay"), which restricts how schools can teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. Parents say the law gives them control over their children's education, but critics call it discriminatory and unnecessary. Newsom noted the similarities between Florida's restrictive law and a similar attempt made by his own state in the late 1970s.

Specifically, Newsom compared officials who support the law and the Brigg's Initiative's claim that LGBTQ+ people and their allies are "grooming" children.

"Press secretary for the governor of one of our largest states said people like me that were opposed to -- and I know a lot of people are offended by saying it's not really a 'don't say gay' bill -- but referred to those that opposed it in Florida as 'groomers,'" he said. "I think she was promoted, not fired. Certainly wasn't fired."

Officially titled Proposition 6, the California ballot initiative became known as the Briggs Initiative after its sponsor, Republican state legislator John Briggs who represented Orange County. Harvey Milk gained national recognition after he publicly debated Briggs over the initiative. The initiative went down to eventual defeat on November 7, 1978, by a 16-point margin.

Briggs and Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk debated John Briggs over California Proposition 6, the "Briggs Initiative"

One of those who vocally opposed the measure was Ronald Reagan, and Newsom reminded listeners of that opposition yesterday.

"Ronald Reagan himself in 1978 wrote an op-ed saying something that needs to be said today," Newsom said. "'You can't get gay,' he said. He used the word homosexual. You can't catch gay like you can the measles. [It] needs to be said today."

Newsom was accepting the 2022 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States.

"California is demonstrating an intentional, comprehensive investment of funding and other resources that recognize and honor whole-child approaches to education, not only instruction," the Education Commission of the States said in a statement announcing the award.

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