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Anita Bryant

Updated: Jun 11

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, celebrity singer and spokeswoman for Florida orange juice, started a movement to repeal the new anti-discrimination ordinance.


Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism


Image of Anita Bryant standing in front of signs that read "Save our children from homosexuals"
Anita Bryant, 1977 (Source: Associated Press)

Formed in opposition to the anti-discrimination ordinance, Save Our Children was the first organized group to actively fight against the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Headed by Bryant, the group spread 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 LGBTQ+ 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.


Bryant's anti-queer crusade was a success. In one of the largest turnouts in Dade County’s history of special elections, voters repealed the anti-discrimination ordinance by a majority vote on June 7, 1977.


However, the loss was not the end of the fight for civil rights. That very day, openly gay politician Harvey Milk was elected to the San Fransisco Board of Supervisors. At the time, Anita Bryant likely had no idea that she'd find a formidable opponent in Milk, and that he would eventually help to bring about her downfall.




Harvey Milk in his camera store on Castro Street
Harvey Milk in his camera store on Castro Street on June 28, 1977 in San Francisco (Source: AP)

The Briggs Initiative

Anita Byant Protest in Chicago, 1977 (Source: Queer Music Hertiage)
Anita Byant Protest in Chicago, 1977 (Source: Queer Music Hertiage)

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, regurgitating the same homophobic rhetoric that the Save Our Children organization used to compel voters.




In 1978, Harvey Milk gave "The Hope Speech" on Gay Freedom Day in opposition to the Briggs Initiative, or Proposition 6. Despite losing their fight against Anita Bryant in Miami, Milk referenced the positive impact the initiative had on spreading awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and mobilizing the queer community. Milk 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 a milestone in the fight for gay rights. The Briggs Initiative was the first anti-gay ballot measure not to be passed by voters.


The Downfall of Anita Bryant


Although some supported Anita Bryant, backlash from her homophobic crusade and her affiliation with the failed Briggs Initiative 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.


Legacy


Anita Bryant 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 nationwide. 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.


 

References


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



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/



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


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