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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Neem, Johann N.

Second Advisor

Kennedy, Kathleen, 1963-

Third Advisor

Lopez, A. Ricardo, 1974-


The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) movement scored two historic victories in California in the late 1970s. Despite difficult odds, the movement succeeded in electing Harvey Milk as the first openly gay male candidate to political office in the country. The election of Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took place at time when anti-gay ballot initiatives were being approved by large majorities of voters in states across the country. Furthermore, the LGBT liberation movement succeeded in defeating an anti-gay ballot initiative in California in 1978, Proposition 6. Based on extensive primary source research, this thesis argues that certain historical conditions, which activists had little control over, made these victories possible, namely, the protest movements and radicalization of the 1960s, the massive migration of LGBT people to San Francisco, and the establishment of district-based elections rather than city-wide elections for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. California Senator John Briggs also made the mistake of writing Proposition 6 in a way that most California voters regarded as too extreme. In addition, activists used progressive left-wing strategies that proved to be decisive in electing Milk and defeating Proposition 6. Specifically, LGBT activists formed coalitions with unions, low-income workers, and oppressed groups, they organized visible mass demonstrations, and thousands of LGBT came out of the closet and directly confronted the homophobic arguments of their opponents. Historians and corporate media outlets give much of the credit for shifting public opinion against Proposition 6 to high profile politicians and media outlets. However, this thesis demonstrates that grassroots activists played the lead role in shifting public opinion against the initiative, not the established politicians or corporate media outlets.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subjects – Names (LCNAF)

Milk, Harvey

Subject – LCSH

California. Proposition 6 (1978); Gay liberation movement--California--San Francisco--History--20th century; Gays--Political aspects--California--San Francisco--History--20th century; Homosexuality--California--San Francisco--Public opinion; Gay liberation movement--California--History--20th century; Gays--Political aspects--California--History--20th century; Homosexuality--California--Public opinion

Geographic Coverage

San Francisco (Calif.); California




masters theses




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