Northgate event recalls historic Harvey Milk debate

Northgate event recalls historic Harvey Milk debate

Northgate event recalls historic Harvey Milk debate
Harvey Milk and Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County met in September 1978 for a debate at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek over the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have made it mandatory for school boards to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers.  Photo Credit: San Francisco Chronicle archives
Stuart Milk, president of the Harvey Milk Foundation and Harvey Milk’s nephew.

WALNUT CREEK, CA (Oct. 8, 2023) — On Oct. 16, the Northgate High School community will honor Harvey Milk and the gay rights debate that took place in the school gym 45 years ago.

Milk, the first openly gay San Francisco supervisor, squared off against Republican state Sen. John Briggs about Prop. 6 – the 1978 ballot initiative that would have banned LGBTQIA+ people and their supporters from working in public schools.

Briggs authored Prop. 6, which was voted down two months later, largely due to the coordinated efforts of Milk and other activists. Milk was assassinated three weeks after the ballot initiative’s defeat. His debate with Briggs at Northgate was one of his final public appearances and was later included in the Oscar Award-winning film “Milk.”

The free event begins at 6 p.m. It will feature viewing of film footage and photographs from the debate, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for the gym. Guest speakers will include Stuart Milk, president of the Harvey Milk Foundation and Harvey’s nephew; Jonathan Lee, president of Rainbow Community Center’s board; and Contra Costa County Supervisor Ken Carlson. Mt. Diablo Unified School District leadership and Northgate teachers and students will also offer reflections.

Inspiring legacy

“We are excited to celebrate this historic moment and the fact that Northgate High School is forever linked to Harvey Milk’s inspiring legacy,” said Meg Honey, a Northgate social studies teacher who is coordinating the event. “As we continue to witness the devastating erasure of LGBTQIA+ people through book bans and censored curriculum, I am so proud to be part of a school community that uplifts the experiences and contributions of marginalized groups.”

Honey said memorializing the debate is important because Milk helped protect the human rights of school employees.

“Visibility is vital, and I love knowing that the hundreds of students and community members who utilize our gymnasium each day will now engage with a powerful reminder of the significant event that happened here.”

Principal Kelly Cooper noted that everyone in the community is invited to help “meaningfully remember” Milk.

“The event is truly a great example of the power of partnerships,” Cooper said. “We’ve successfully raised funds for the beautiful new plaque that will be installed in our gymnasium, and we look forward to welcoming regional and national leaders to our campus for a wonderful and memorable night.”

The Northgate High School gym is at 425 Castle Rock Road, Walnut Creek.