Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Voters in Dade County, Florida, led by entertainer Anita Bryant and her “Save Our Children” campaign, repealed a gay and lesbian rights law by a two-to-one margin. The original ordinance is generally viewed as the focal point for the backlash against gay and lesbian rights in the United States in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Summary of Event

After the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969 triggered more than a decade of gay and lesbian revolution, antigay crusaders began to mobilize to protest GLBT-rights activism and its successes. In 1977, Dade County, Florida, Dade County, Florida passed an ordinance protecting gays and lesbians against discrimination based on sexual orientation. [kw]Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights (1977) [kw]Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights, Anita (1977) [kw]Gay and Lesbian Rights, Anita Bryant Campaigns Against (1977) [kw]Lesbian Rights, Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and (1977) [kw]Rights, Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian (1977) "Save Our Children" campaign[Save Our Children campaign] Antigay movement [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights[1190] [c]Civil rights;1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights[1190] Bryant, Anita Falwell, Jerry

Anita Bryant, a singer and a runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant (and later spokesperson for the Florida Orange Growers Association), launched a campaign to repeal the ordinance primarily prompted by her Southern Baptist Southern Baptist Church Christian Right upbringing and heavily conservative morals. Bryant was a relentless crusader, and she was quickly surrounded by friends and supporters. Focusing their efforts on stereotypes and prejudices surrounding homosexuality, the group named itself Save Our Children and used fears of child molestation and gays “recruiting” children to join their ranks to spark voters to repeal the ordinance by a 69 to 31 percent vote.

Featured on the June 6, 1977, cover of Newsweek, Bryant became a national figure, and popular Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell joined her crusade. Indeed, around the country, antigay campaigners rallied around Bryant to protest gay rights legislation. For example, California State senator John V. Briggs attempted unsuccessfully to pass an antigay initiative that would have prevented gay and lesbian teachers from teaching in California schools. Bryant’s supporters called themselves the Religious, or Christian, Right, and, in 1979, Falwell formed the Moral Majority, Moral Majority with the specific goal of promoting conservative Christianity in politics. The conservative fundamentalist Christian agenda espoused by the Moral Majority included antiabortion and antigay campaigns, the reinstatement of prayer in public schools, and the addition of creationism (a Bible-based counterview of evolution) to public school curricula. In the 1980 elections, the Moral Majority successfully lobbied in favor of conservative candidates. Falwell led the Moral Majority until 1987, and the group disbanded in 1989.

White supremacist groups generally endorsed antigay politicians and causes, and violence Antigay violence;Christian Right and often accompanied their activities. Antigay sentiment ran so high that, in 1979, former San Francisco city and county supervisor Dan White was sentenced to less than eight years in prison for his 1978 assassination of gay San Francisco city and county supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone. Gay rights activists retaliated with rioting.

In this reactionary atmosphere, gay rights initiatives around the country began to encounter defeat, and gay rights activists found themselves regularly struggling against the antigay crusaders at the polls. However, Bryant and the Religious Right also inadvertently sparked a new wave of GLBT-rights organizing, as their highly visible stance drew attention to the gay rights debate. Gay rights activists accused Bryant of promoting bigotry and repression, and gay rights advocates turned out as often as did antigay campaigners to fight for control at the ballot box.

Significance

The impact of Anita Bryant’s campaign on her personal life was swift and negative. She went on tour, campaigning against homosexuality, the same year that Save Our Children effected the overturn of the Dade County ordinance. However, her crusade devastated her career. In Des Moines, Iowa, gay rights protesters “creamed” her in the face with a pie, a tactic that gained popularity in the fight against the Moral Majority. The controversy surrounding Bryant led the Florida Orange Juice Growers Association to drop her as their spokesperson in 1980, due to a nationwide orange juice boycott organized by gay rights activists. Bryant was divorced in the same year and used much of her own money trying to promote her cause. Because of her divorce, many of her Christian conservative allies reviled her as a sinner. By the time of her 1990 remarriage, her popularity had waned, and by 2001 she had filed for bankruptcy in two states.

Bryant’s social impact can still be felt in the presence of vocal antigay celebrities who use a strong conservative Christian stance to denounce homosexuality. Bryant herself has largely withdrawn from the battle, insisting that there is a distinction between hating homosexuality and hating homosexual individuals. (Homosexuals, she feels, can be “saved” from their “sinful” behavior.) Religious conservatives launched programs to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality, and these programs and their descendants persist to the present. However, there are also vocal gay rights protesters among modern celebrities, including lesbian talk-show hosts and comedians Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell, who now lives in Florida.

The impact of Bryant’s campaign on national politics had been enormous. Conservative leaders were largely in favor of the Moral Majority. In Florida, legislation was soon passed outlawing adoption by gays and lesbians. In 2004, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the legislation. Twenty-one years after Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign, gay rights activists succeeded in bringing about the equal treatment legislation Bryant had initially succeeded in overturning when, in 1998, Miami-Dade County passed an antibias ordinance. In 2002, a conservative Christian group calling itself SAVE Dade attempted to overturn the ordinance just as Bryant and her followers had done in 1977. However, a vocal activist group, No to Discrimination/SAVE Dade, successfully prevented a repeat of Bryant’s earlier success. "Save Our Children" campaign[Save Our Children campaign] Antigay movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryant, Anita. The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation’s Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality. Nashville, Tenn.: Revell, 1977.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Button, James W., Barbara Ann Rienzo, and Kenneth D. Wald. Private Lives, Public Conflicts: Battles over Gay Rights in American Communities. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Howard, John. Men Like That: A Southern Queer History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moran, Leslie J. Sexuality and the Politics of Violence and Safety. New York: Routledge, 2004.

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

November 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives

March-April, 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash

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