Updated: Sep 28
In 1977, Dade County, Florida, issued an ordinance to protect people from discrimination in housing, employment, and other services based on sexual orientation. The same year, Anita Bryant started an to repeal the new anti-discrimination ordinance. Anita Bryant was a singer, pageant contestant, and spokeswoman for Florida orange juice. She founded the “Save Our Children” organization in 1977.
Save Our Children was the first organized group to actively fight against the LGBTQ+ community and rights movement. The organization was formed in opposition to the anti-discrimination ordinance. Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children's group spread homophobic claims that “homosexuals” were corrupt and recruited youth. The goal was to deceive voters into believing homosexuality was dangerous.
The Humans Under Attack Committee (HUAC) was formed to protest against Bryant’s discriminatory and homophobic rhetoric. The HUAC urged consumers to boycott all Florida orange juice products in defense of civil rights. Discussions of LGBT political rights made headlines, and word of the boycott spread nationwide. Gay bars were no longer serving orange juice, and consequently, screwdriver cocktails. Instead, the bars served the “Anita Bryant” cocktail, a mix of vodka and apple juice.
The vote on Bryant's initiative had the largest turnout in Dade County’s history of special elections. Voters repealed the ordinance by a majority vote on June 7, 1977, despite activism by the LGBTQ+ community. However, the loss was not the end of the fight for civil rights. That very night, Harvey Milk led thousands of protesters for five miles down Castro street. Milk predicted the legacy Anita Bryant’s homophobic crusade would have on the LGBTQ+ rights movement when he said, “this is the power of the gay community. Anita’s going to create a national gay force.”
The Briggs Initiative
Following Anita Bryant's success in 1977, Senator John Briggs of California introduced a bill to fire teachers who publicly engaged in or promoted homosexuality. Anita Bryant supported the bill and used the same homophobic language as the Save Our Children organization to compel voters to vote in its favor.
In 1978, Harvey Milk gave "The Hope Speech" on Gay Freedom Day in opposition to the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6. Despite the loss in their fight against Anita Bryant's initiative in Miami, Milk referenced the positive impact the initiative had on spreading awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. He said, "Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people's opinion. In those two weeks, more good and bad, but more about the word homosexual and gay was written than probably in the history of mankind. Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice."
On November 7th, 1978, California’s Prop 6 was defeated by over a million votes. This was a huge win and milestone for the fight for gay rights. The Briggs Initiative was the first anti-gay ballot measure to not be passed by voters.
The Downfall of Anita Bryant
Although some supported Anita Bryant, backlash from her homophobic crusade caused her to lose sponsorships and work. After the special election in 1977, Anita's husband, Bob Green, claimed her show business was down 70%. She also could not get a record deal for her new song, "There's Nothing Like the Love Between a Woman and a Man."
By 1980, Anita Bryant's image fell even farther from grace, even among her own crowd. The Florida Citrus Commission decided not to renew their contract with Anita, dropping her after 12 years as the spokeswoman. During the same year, she divorced her husband. The divorce caused uproar among Christian groups that once supported her. They viewed it as going against the family values she preached. Anita later went on to write a book and open a theater.
Due to the immense lack of support and work Anita received after her divorce, she would file for bankruptcy twice by 2001. She has mostly stayed out of the public eye for the past 20 years, but Anita now must decide what is more important to her: her family or her values. In 2021, Anita's granddaughter, Sarah Green, publicly came out as gay after getting engaged. Green states Anita expressed her old views regarding her granddaughter's sexuality. It is unclear whether Anita will attend the wedding.
Anita Bryant has been referred to as one of the best things to happen for gay rights, much to her dismay. Anita was the catalyst for individuals to unite and take a stand against homophobic rhetoric and anti-gay politics. LGBTQ+ activist groups, like HUAC and Human Rights for Everyone (HERE), were formed across the country. Only months after Anita's crusade, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California. By 1980, 120 companies and 40 cities had passed various protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Anita Bryant won the 1977 battle in Dade County, but she lost the war on long-term LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.
Boas Hayes, C. (2013, September 22). Florida Gay Rights Activists Boycott Orange Juice, 1977-1980 | Global Nonviolent Action Database. https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/florida-gay-rights-activists-boycott-orange-juice-1977-1980#case-study-detail
California Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative (1978). (n.d.). Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_6,_the_Briggs_Initiative_(1978)
D’Emilio, J. (n.d.). Dade County, USA, 1977—Chicago Stories by John D’Emilio. OutHistory. https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/chicago-stories/dade-county-usa-1977//
Douglas, D. (1977). Florida Orange Juice Boycott and Referendum. Gay Scene, 7(10). Archives of Sexuality and Gender. http://link.gale.com/apps/doc/YPADEH852562881/AHSI?u=csuf_main&sid=zotero&xid=d0af32e0
Endres, N. (2009). Bryant, Anita (b. 1940). Glbtq. http://www.glbtqarchive.com/ssh/bryant_anita_S.pdf
Higgins, B. W. (2012, June 8). The strange but true history of Indianapolis’ gay bars. The Indianapolis Star. https://www.indystar.com/story/life/2013/12/12/indianapolis-gay-bars/3997591/
Josh Levin. (n.d.). Anita Bryant’s War on Gay Rights (No. 1). https://slate.com/transcripts/cWNjZ0ZuOU1TdjBUR0p3MHVIbVdvZG9MNWxNNHlvdXZCd2JaNXhIM053bz0=
Kohler, W. (2020, November 7). Gay History - November 7, 1978: Prop 6 aka The Briggs Initiative Defeated. Back2Stonewall. http://www.back2stonewall.com/2020/11/gay-history-november-7-1978-prop-6briggs-initiative-defeated.html
Milk, H. (1978). The Hope Speech. https://terpconnect.umd.edu/~jklumpp/ARD/MilkSpeech.pdf
Monuments, P., & Perez, F. (n.d.). H.E.R.E. (Human Rights for Everyone) Activists Unite Against Anita Baker—June 18, 1977. New Orleans Historical. https://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1429
Ring, T. (2018, August 31). The Briggs Initiative: Remembering a Crucial Moment in Gay History. Advocate. https://www.advocate.com/politics/2018/8/31/briggs-initiative-remembering-crucial-moment-gay-history
Rosen, R. J. (2014, February 26). A Glimpse Into 1970s Gay Activism. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/02/a-glimpse-into-1970s-gay-activism/284077/
Smith, H. (2009, June 24). Stonewall at 40: The Voice Articles That Sparked a Final Night of Rioting. The Village Voice. https://www.villagevoice.com/2009/06/24/stonewall-at-40-the-voice-articles-that-sparked-a-final-night-of-rioting/
Stutz, C. (2019, November 8). LGBTQ History Critical Points From 1966 to Present | Equality Nevada [Equality Nevada]. https://www.equalitynv.org/2019/11/08/lgbtq-history-critical-points-from-1966-to-present/, https://www.equalitynv.org/2019/11/08/lgbtq-history-critical-points-from-1966-to-present/
The Nation: The Gaycott Turns Ugly. (1977, November 21). Time. http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,915719,00.html
Tobin, T. (2002, October 2). Bankruptcy, ill will plague Bryant. St. Petersburg Times.http://web.archive.org/web/20021002013002/http://sptimes.com/2002/04/28/State/Bankruptcy__ill_will_.shtml