SACRAMENTO – For thirty years, the LGBT community in California, the capital, had a vibrant community voice documenting not only the lives of LGBT people, but the larger world and events that affected them.
KOVR 13-CBS Sacramento reporter Rachel Wulff reported Friday that The Center for Sacramento History is urging those who put it on the map, including the publisher, to make sure its pioneering legacy is remembered.
For Linda Birner who grew up in the city, California Proposition 6, known as the John Briggs Initiative, which was a ballot initiative put on the California State ballot in the November 7, 1978 election that would have denied gays and lesbians the opportunity to teach in the Golden State’s public schools, Birner’s call to arms became.
Birner told KOVR, “The John Briggs initiative was about to be on the ballot,” Birner said. “He wanted all the school teachers and staff to be fired who were gay and lesbian. So I thought. ‘I have to do something fast and get the word out.’
What happened next was unique given that the photographer, feminist activist and graphic designer had no real business experience – she started a community newspaper.
“I knew I could post it, I knew I could photograph, I knew I could collect the stories. I knew I could write. So I started calling people,” Birner told CBS Sacramento.
Advertisers bought in and “Mommy guess what?” was put into print. The publication quickly grew from 5,000 to 26,000 in circulation.
“The community was so excited!” she said with a smile on her face.
Birner’s “Mom Guess What'” newspaper, which used the Sacramento Bee as its model, received an initially envious nod from publisher C. K. McClatchy II, the president of McClatchy Newspapers.
“We went to lunch and he brought a green pen and wrote up the paper and told me how to improve. He was like an editor. But in retrospect you said you can do better here. Do better there. Change this. Do this, Birner said.
Her news operation quickly became a must-see for politicians, California officials and celebrities. According to CBS Sacramento, the paper caught the attention of celebrities like Jane Fonda, who attended Birner’s 40th birthday party, and there were local politicians and lawmakers like Assembly Speaker Willie Brown who visited her L Street office, along with governors like Jerry Brown — who was a regularly.
“He would want to come in, not just stop at the counter. So he came in and sat in front of me and we talked forever,” she said.
Although the paper is long out of print, Birner tells CBS Sacramento that she is working with historians from The Center for Sacramento History.
“It just made me think: I really did something important. It helped individuals to come out, be comfortable. I wanted people to feel more confident and get out of the bars and play sports and do things,” Birner said.
One of those working on the project is historian Marcia Eymann.
“We are missing various cases, but we are trying to get a full overview of the newspaper,” Eymann. “It was groundbreaking in the fact that they were a gay and lesbian newspaper, but they covered everything,” Eymann added.