Gus Van Sant

Dustin Lance Black

Sean Penn,
Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O'Hare, Stephen Spinella, Howard Rosenman

Rated R, 128 minutes

1978: When I Heard of Senator Briggs and Proposition 6
a personal remembrance
by Michael D. Klemm

Posted online, December, 2008


This is a footnote; it's a personal remembrance, and has no place in my review of Milk. That is why I add it as a separate page; so it's more of a blog. The fight over Proposition 6 seen in Milk has been known by me for a long time. It was in 1978 that I heard about the infamous Briggs Initiative in California. It was the year that I realized I was gay. I was 20 and I was still having a little trouble accepting the truth about myself. I clearly remembered Anita Bryant's cruel crusade because it made national headlines and I was just about to hear what Senator Briggs was up to California through a very unusual source... I read about it in a science fiction magazine called Future (a more serious sister publication to Starlog) and it was titled "Senator Briggs Vs. Science Fiction." It was penned by David Gerrold, who was the author of "The Trouble With Tribbles" on the original Star Trek (and more recently The Martian Child; the book, not the John Cusak movie that was de-gayed). I'd like to explain why this essay had the most profound influence on me. It was like I was hit by a bolt of lightning.

David Gerrold wasn't out in the 70s (at least not publicly) like he is now but, nevertheless, he used his monthly column in this instance to write an essay about gay prejudice. This was in a teen-orientated science fiction magazine in 1978, and I congratulate Gerrold for writing it but also the editors of Future magazine for allowing it. He informed his (mostly) young readers about the Briggs Initiative and how, if it passed, it would ban gay people from teaching in the state of California. Not only that, the teaching of anything remotely related to homosexuality, especially in a positive vein, would be included in the ban and school libraries would be purged of any books with gay content. I wish I still had the magazine (it could be in a box in the attic but it would probably be a fruitless search) so that I knew exactly how he phrased his thoughts but I remember the content as if I read it yesterday. He listed for his readers, who might have been asking themselves what this had to do with science fiction, the number of science fiction books (like The Female Man by Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and even popular works such as Frank Herbert's Dune) that would be banned from libraries if Briggs got his way.

He began the article by saying that he was wearing a button protesting Proposition 6 at a Science Fiction Convention. Someone asked him what that was and then, confused, asked why the author was wearing it to a Sci-Fi Convention. Gerrold then explained to his readers about Senator Briggs' crusade against gay rights and then returned to the man who couldn't understand why he wore the button. He asked the man if he knew anyone who was gay and the man said no, but Gerrold knew that he was wrong. He has gay friends, Gerrold wrote, but he will probably never know it because those friends are scared to tell him. And then he challenged his readers. This might mean more to old Star Trek geeks like me, but he cited the Vulcan philosophy of "worshipping diversity in all forms." He said that people who admire science fiction usually have open minds and respect the alien cultures in the books, TV shows and movies that they like. So, he asked, how would you react if a good friend told you that he or she was gay? Would you have learned the lessons from the science fiction you revere so much and would you accept your friend?

Remember that this was 1978. It was, quite literally, my first exposure to anything positive about being gay. I was going through a phase when I was ashamed of being queer and afraid to tell my fag-joke-telling friends about me and I was feeling very alone. I was absolutely stunned when I read Gerrold's essay and it made me feel so good about myself that I almost cried. I was also, of course, outraged by what I read about Proposition 6 but Gerrold's sympathetic plea for people who were gay made a profound impression on this scared 20-year gay kid who was feeling absolutely isolated. I always wanted to thank him for it, and I found his website a few years ago and sent him an e-mail that did just that. You sometimes find solace where you least expect it and I certainly didn't expect to find it in a science fiction magazine. It would still be years before I came out to anyone (times were different then) but David Gerrold helped me come to acceptance while, at the same time, expose me to the gay rights fight that was going on in a world totally unknown to me.

Anyway, that's how I first heard about Senator Briggs and Proposition 6. Thirty years ago when I was a closeted kid. It scared me, and we didn't have many allies back then. It all came back home to me as I watched Milk.