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Finding aid to the Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs Collection, 1940-2004
GLC 75  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1940-2004
    Date (bulk): 1977-1982
    Collection Identifier: GLC 75
    Creator: Berner, Lawrence, 1940-1995
    Physical Description: 2.0 cartons (2 cubic ft.)
    Contributing Institution: James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: The collection documents the legal suit brought by homosexual school teacher Lawrence Berner against California State Senator John Briggs for defamation of character. Briggs had sponsored Proposition 6 which would have prevented gay and lesbian teachers from teaching in California. The Briggs campaign singled out Berner. The case settled in Berner's favor in 1982.
    Physical Location: The collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English, with 3 items in Japanese.


    The collection is available for use during San Francisco History Center hours, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs Collection (GLC 75), LGBTQIA Center, San Francisco Public Library.


    The collection was donated in three accessions (November 2011, May 2012, and September 2012) by Bernard Niechlanski for the Estate of Rodger Brooks. Brooks was Lawrence Berner's life partner in the 1970s. When Berner moved to Japan, he left his papers in Brooks' care; Berner died of AIDS in 1995. The case files were transferred from Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe to Berner in 1982.

    Biographical Note

    Lawrence Berner was born on July 27, 1940 in Elm Springs, Arkansas. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1962 with a B.A in Psychology. From 1962-1966 he served in the U.S. Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1966. He attended Sonoma State College from 1970-1972 and studied for an elementary education credential. From January 1972-August 1982 he was a second grade school teacher for the Healdsburg Union Elementary Schools in Healdsburg, California.
    John Briggs was a California politician who served in the State Assembly and in the Senate beginning in 1977. He sponsored Proposition 6 (also known as the Briggs Initiative) for the 1978 General Election. Adoption of Prop. 6 would make it possible to fire teachers based on homosexual acts or activities. The Briggs campaign singled out Berner as an example of a homosexual teacher from whom school children needed protection.
    In 1979, after the Briggs Initiative failed, Berner brought suit against Briggs for defamation of character. The suit also named the California Defend Our Children Committee, National Broadcasting Co., K.N.B.C., Mrs. Lee Lee and Does I-XX. Lee Lee was a member of the Healdsburg School Board.
    Berner was represented by Jerel McCrary of Gay Rights Advocates, and by Stephen V. Bomse and Michael L. Rugen of the San Francisco law firm Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe. The case was settled in Berner's favor in 1982. In 1984 Berner moved to Japan where he taught English. He learned he was HIV-positive in 1988, and was one of the first people to go public with his condition in Japan. Berner died due to AIDS complications on January 25, 1995 in Tokyo.

    Scope and Contents

    The collection includes the documents filed for the legal case Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs, additional supporting material collected by Berner and his legal representatives, and audiotapes of Berner's speeches and interviews. The majority of the material consists of newspaper clippings that document the activities and remarks made by Briggs and Berner in the months leading up to the November 1978 California general election. Some additional materials concern Berner's life in Japan.


    The collection is arranged into four series: Series 1. Case Files; Series 2. Lawrence Berner Papers; Series 3. Newspaper Clippings; and Series 4. Audiovisual Materials.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Berner, Lawrence, 1940-1995.
    Briggs, John V., 1930- .
    Gay liberation movement--California--San Francisco.
    Gay men--California--Political activity.
    Gay teachers--California.
    Gays--Legal status, laws, etc.--California.
    Homophobia in employment--California.
    Homosexuality and education--California.
    Lesbians--Legal status, laws, etc.--California.