Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Conservative Christian entertainer Anita Bryant started a campaign to overturn a human rights ordinance in Florida’s Dade County that prohibited discrimination against lesbians and gays. Buoyed by her initial success with the ordinance’s repeal, she transformed her campaign into a national Christian political movement but also unleashed a newly determined gay rights movement.

Summary of Event

During the 1970’s, a fledgling lesbian and gay rights movement was taking shape in certain regions of the United States, fueled especially by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion Stonewall Rebellion New York City;Stonewall Rebellion in New York City. In addition to encouraging pride parades and rallies, the movement had begun to win legal cases and helped institute local ordinances against discrimination at the city and county levels. On January 18, 1977, in Florida, the Dade County Commission passed one of the first human rights ordinances in the United States that also prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. [kw]Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights, Singer Anita (Jan., 1977) [kw]Lesbian and Gay Rights, Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against (Jan., 1977) [kw]Gay Rights, Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and (Jan., 1977) Falwell, Jerry Bryant, Anita Homosexuality;and Anita Bryant[Bryant] Falwell, Jerry Bryant, Anita Homosexuality;and Anita Bryant[Bryant] [g]United States;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Human rights;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Music and performing arts;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Politics;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Religion;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Sex;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660] [c]Social issues and reform;Jan., 1977: Singer Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Lesbian and Gay Rights[01660]

Anita Bryant was famously “pied” in the face at a televised news conference in 1977. “Well, at least it’s a fruit pie” was her first response. With her is her husband, Bob Green.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The American Psychiatric Association American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association had dropped homosexuality from their lists of mental disorders. Given these swift and powerful social changes, the Southern Baptist community responded with calls against lesbian and gay rights and for the repeal of the new antidiscrimination laws. Christian psychologists, including Charles W. Socarides, promoted the idea that homosexuality not only was a disorder but also was curable. Many Christians believe that this cure is possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Anita Bryant, a Christian singer and entertainer, began her singing career at the age of six, performing at local fairgrounds near her hometown of Barnsdall, Oklahoma. At the age of sixteen she persuaded her Southern Baptist father to allow her to attend a local audition for Arthur Godfrey’s talent show. This exposure encouraged her to enter other talent and beauty pageants. At the age of eighteen she won Miss Oklahoma and became second runner-up in the 1959 Miss Miss America;Anita Bryant[Bryant] America contest. After this victory, Bryant was dedicated to a career in Christian music, where she accumulated a modicum of success. At the height of her career, during the late 1960’s, she became the national spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission and appeared in many of its television commercials. It was in this role that she became almost a household name.

Armed with strongly held religious beliefs and aware of her celebrity, Bryant spearheaded an attempt to repeal the human rights measure passed by voters in Dade County, a county that includes the cosmopolitan and relatively progressive city of Miami. Soon after the ordinance was passed, she founded a campaign called Save Our Children Save Our Children and became its lead spokesperson and crusader. She gathered fellow social conservatives to develop a strong political machine centered on “Christian beliefs regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality” and the “proclivity” of gays and lesbians to recruit children into their “lifestyle.”

“As a mother,” Bryant argued, “I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.” She continued,“If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” This message, coupled with a still-fledgling gay and lesbian rights movement without a visible and vocal leadership, led to public fears of pedophilia and child abuse. Bryant’s campaign was successful, and the Dade County ordinance was repealed by 69 percent of the county’s voters.

Bryant moved her campaign to the national stage. Newsweek magazine featured her on its cover on June 6, 1977. Through this media exposure she began to inspire many national leaders to join her campaign. The campaign coalesced into what is now known as the Religious Right, or Christian Right. Among those figures who joined her was Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell. Falwell, in 1979, formed the powerful Moral Majority and broadened the political scope of his conservative Christian organization.

In 1978, California state senator John V. Briggs Briggs, John V. attempted to use Bryant’s techniques to pass an antigay initiative (called the Briggs Initiative) that would have kept gay and lesbian teachers from working in California schools. Gay and lesbian rights advocates, led by San Francisco councilman Milk, Harvey Harvey Milk (who was assassinated in 1978), countered these arguments. They gathered support from an unlikely coalition of politicians, liberals as well as conservatives, and defeated the initiative.

The rise in social conservatism, along with an atmosphere of fear, prompted many reversals of antidiscrimination laws. Political candidates with antigay campaign platforms were swept into office throughout the country. In Florida, a law was passed outlawing adoption by gays and lesbians. Lesbian and gay activists soon mobilized and challenged the Religious Right. A well-organized boycott against the Florida Citrus Commission secured a number of celebrity endorsements, including those of entertainers Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand.

Bryant was not prepared for the fierce resistance to her campaign. Her contract with the Florida Citrus Commission was not renewed, leading to the boycott’s cancellation. At a televised press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, she was publicly humiliated when someone threw a pie in her face. Her marriage ended in divorce in 1980, disappointing her Christian fan base and harming her Christian music career. She remarried and attempted to revive her career as a singer. During the 1990’s, she filed for bankruptcy in two states.

In 1998, Dade County officially repudiated Bryant’s successful campaign of twenty years earlier and reauthorized, after a 7-6 vote, an antidiscrimination ordinance protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2002, a Florida ballot initiative, Amendment 14, which attempted to repeal the 1998 antidiscrimination law, failed at election time, with 56 percent of the voters in favor of keeping the 1998 law in place. In 2004, a federal appellate court upheld Florida’s antigay adoption law against a constitutional challenge.

Impact

Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign prompted a national dialogue on gay and lesbian rights. A line was drawn, however, between the views of the Religious Right and those of the gay rights movement. The AIDS epidemic that began during the early 1980’s gave new life to the Religious Right and its antigay politics, and moral-values voters remained a powerful faction of the electorate into the first decade of the twenty-first century.

In turn, the movement for gay and lesbian rights also was given new life. Beginning during the late 1980’s with the radical politics of groups such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and Queer Nation, gay rights advocates began to frame the argument as a civil rights issue. In Lawrence v. Texas Lawrence v. Texas (2003) (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court found state sodomy laws unconstitutional, a ruling that re-energized the gay rights movement. Same-gender relationships in the form of Marriage;and homosexuality[homosexuality] marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships became legal in several states; in May, 2008, California’s Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians could legally marry.

The trend toward supporting lesbians and gays continues, long after Bryant’s very public and successful campaign of 1977. A noticeable change has occurred in television, film, and literature, as gay and lesbian characters and story lines are now featured more prominently. Celebrities and other public figures have been coming out of the so-called closet, especially since the early 1990’s, and continue to do so. Even many religious leaders have embraced gays and lesbians. The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, in particular, have made positive strides toward acceptance, and many of those churches that retain a position against homosexuality have tempered their criticism. Falwell, Jerry Bryant, Anita Homosexuality;and Anita Bryant[Bryant]

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. Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1977. Bryant’s autobiography, focused on her war against “militant” homosexuality and its alleged destruction of the family.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Faderman, Lillian, et al., eds. Great Events from History: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Events, 1848-2006. 2 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2007. This two-volume set, which includes an article on Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign, highlights significant events and people in the history of lesbian and gay culture around the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Howard, John. Men Like That: A Southern Queer History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Explores the history of gay culture in the southern United States, an area often neglected in histories of lesbians and gays, which normally focus on urban life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lane, Frederick S. The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2006. A study of the conservative campaign against First Amendment rights in the United States. Includes the chapter“’A Soldier in God’s Army’: Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and the Rise of Evangelical Politics.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Neil. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. Rev. ed. New York: Alyson Books, 2006. First published in 1995, this comprehensive work by an award-winning author is a classic reference in lesbian and gay history. A good starting point that includes many primary source materials.

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