After moving to San Jose from rural Oroville in 1974, Johnie Staggs was emboldened with a vision for liberation. Together with Rosalie ‘Nikki’ Nichols, Lesbian Voices was founded that year as a quarterly journal for feminist-lesbians. Complementing Lesbian Voices was Ms. Atlas Press, which was established by them. It would later become the largest gay print shop and contribute to the publication of many of Silicon Valley’s gay newspapers. In 1976, Johnie became an avid volunteer at the newly formed Lambda News, which was the first gay newspaper in Silicon Valley.
The press wasn’t Johnie’s sole passion, however. Due to rising threat of the Briggs Initiative in 1977, she became heavily involved with local gay politics, with her work with the Santa Clara Valley Coalition for Human Right. The coalition was an organization primarily dedicated to the plight of the LGBTQ community and combating efforts to criminalize or discriminate against it. Johnie’s work helped to organize its first press conference in September 1977. However, after the temporary stop to the Briggs Initiative, the coalition lost momentum of its support for gay issues. Meanwhile, Johnie had continued to network with and establish groups like the Sisters of Sappha and the Susan B. Anthony Democratic Club.
By February 1978, the controversy over the recognition of Gay Pride Week in San Jose was all the rage. Johnie was instrumental in advocating for the resolution by organizing an overnight protest that gathered over a hundred people. After both mayoral candidate switched their votes against recognition, the gay community was caught in a dilemma whom to support. Since Johnie’s organizing and work was well known, community groups expressed their support for her and Sal Accardi (co-owner and founder of the Watergarden) to run for mayor and city councilmember respectively. Their write-in campaign was unsuccessful, but it was a significant step towards LGBTQ participation in electoral politics in Silicon Valley.
Despite the defeat of the Briggs Initiative in November 1978, there was an overwhelming presence of opposition towards the LGBTQ community with the rise of the Moral Majority and religious fundamentalists. Due to her previous work within the community, Johnie was thrust into the position of campaign manager for both the county-level Measure A and San Jose’s Measure B. While the campaign was wrought with a lack of funds and support, Johnie was credited with holding it together and upholding what was left of the opposition to the religious right.
The defeat of Measures A and B were incredibly devastating, with Johnie declaring her retirement from politics right after the election. For the community at large and those personally involved in the campaign, the loss was innumerable. Seeking a reprieve from those traumatizing events, Johnie went back to publishing Lesbian Voices with Nikki in 1980. In spite of her so-called retirement, Johnie would be elected to the State Democratic Party Executive Committee in December 1980.
After leaving Lambda News in 1982, Johnie remained involved in the gay press through the creation of Our Paper/Your Paper. She would continue her work in the newspaper until 1985, when she began a brief six-month publication of her own paper X-tra X-tra. Johnie would then retire from the press after 20 years, and moved away from San Jose with her partner Teri Espy that year.