Thursday, August 13, 2009

Anita Bryant and the Save Our Children Campaign

The Religious Right has been on the attack against gay people for a long time. Many younger gay and lesbian people are not aware of where all of this hatred started. Believe it or not, it wasn’t always like this. The Religious Right and the gay population used to live side-by-side in a “cold war” like atmosphere. They didn’t like us, but rarely ever bothered us, except for a few outbursts at gay pride celebrations. The crusade of the Religious Right to stomp out gay culture everywhere, began with a little lady named Anita Bryant.

Anita Bryant was a singer. A woman with a slightly religious background who ended up being the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission. She was also a mother and starred in various ad campaigns for other labels, such as Coca Cola, Tupperware, and Kraft Foods.

In 1977, Dade County Florida tried to pass an ordinance that would forbid discrimination, due to sexual orientation. Anita was outraged at this. She said that homosexuals could not reproduce on their own and therefore were trying to push their “lifestyle” as an acceptable alternative to recruit children for their ranks. So she started a campaign called “Save Our Children” to rally support to stop the ordinance from passing. She teamed up with the likes of Jerry Falwell to organize a rebellion against gay rights, which were sweeping across the nation at the time.

“As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children, therefore, they must recruit our children’

“If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with Saint Bernards and to nail biters.”

In June of 1977, Anita Bryant’s campaign was successful and the ordinance was repealed by a margin of 69 to 31 percent.

Gays and lesbians became outraged. They organized boycotts against the Florida Citrus Commission and encouraged others to stop buying Florida orange juice and other products. Many gay bars took “screwdrivers” off of their drink menus and replaced them with a drink called “Anita Bryant” which replaced orange juice with apple juice. Proceeds from these drink sales, went to fight the Save Our Children campaign.

After the repeal of the ordinance in Florida, Anita took her campaign to other states across the nation. Her success allowed her to try to pass the Briggs Initiative in California, which called for the immediate dismissal of any school employee who even spoke of homosexuality or homosexuals in a positive or neutral light. Thanks to many liberal organizations the Democratic Party openly opposed the legislation and the initiative suffered heavy losses during the election.

Eventually, thanks to the efforts of gays and lesbians, to boycott the Florida Citrus Commission, Anita Bryant’s contract was not renewed as spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission. As a result of her political views, she became too controversial and her singing career suffered. She ended her marriage with her husband and took on a new one, who tried to reestablish her singing career, but to no avail. She and her second husband filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and again in 2001.

Although she has apologized for her role in the Miami Dade incident and has taken a “live and let live” approach to gays and lesbians, many people still consider her to be the spokesperson for hate and discrimination in the gay community.

The importance of Anita Bryant in gay and lesbian history, is that it was the first time in America, that religious zealots took an open opposition to the Gay Rights Movement. All of the open hatred you see towards gay people by the religious zealots today, can be traced directly back to the Save Our Children Campaign. The Religious Rights sees the passing of any pro-gay laws, as a direct attack on their religious beliefs.

Know Your Own History!