Scope and Contents
Title: Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1940-2004
Date (bulk): 1977-1982
Collection Identifier: GLC 75
Berner, Lawrence, 1940-1995
(2 cubic ft.)
James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
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.
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
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.
[Identification of item], Lawrence Berner vs. John Briggs Collection (GLC 75), Gay and Lesbian Center, San Francisco Public
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
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.
Gays--Legal status, laws, etc.--California.
Homophobia in employment--California.
Homosexuality and education--California.
Lesbians--Legal status, laws, etc.--California.