Celebrating Anita Bryant: The Mother of Gay Rights

You’d have to call Anita Bryant, the former beauty queen gone anti-gay zealot gone born again Christian gone divorced gone bankrupt orange juice spokesperson, a reluctant hero. But a new exhibit in South Florida does just that, commemorating the 30-year anniversary of her crusade and its monumental unintended affects.

Anita Bryant in 1977: “I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children”

In 1977, singer Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to repeal a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians. [The recently called home Rev. Jerry] Falwell came to South Florida in support and two years later created the Moral Majority. Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly quickly joined Falwell in becoming outspoken opponents of gay rights.

“This is where they all had their stage debut,” said Jack Rutland, executive director of the Stonewall Library & Archives and organizer of the exhibit “Days Without Sunshine: Anita Bryant’s Anti-Gay Crusade…”

“In a completely unintended way, Anita Bryant was about the best thing to happen to the gay rights movement,” said John Coppola, exhibit curator and former head of exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “She and her cohorts were so over the top that it just completely galvanized the gay rights movement.”

Rutland goes so far as to call Bryant the mother of the gay rights movement…

Bryant, now 67, declined to comment when contacted at her Anita Bryant Ministries International Inc. in Oklahoma City.

That’s probably because Anita herself hasn’t fared so well.

Singing from the age of two, Bryant became Miss Oklahoma in 1958 and was a second runner-up in the 1959 Miss America beauty pageant. She had three big pop hits: “‘Til There Was You” (1959); “Paper Roses” (1960); and “In My Little Corner of the World” (1960). In 1960, she married Bob Green, a Miami disc jockey, with whom she eventually raised four children. She became a spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission in 1969, and nationally televised commercials featured her singing “Come to the Florida Sunshine tree”, and opining that “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine”.

…concerns over homosexual recruitment of children inspired the name of Bryant’s political organization, Save Our Children. Among Bryant’s assertions during the campaign were “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children” and “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nailbiters.”

Bryant was also a pioneer on the receiving side of getting “pied,” as the YouTube video above shows. Before she took that pie in the face during an anti-gay press junket, such tactics were rare. So anyone who enjoyed seeing Ann Coulter pied should really thank Anita for leading the way.

But Anita’s fortunes took a dive after she spoke out.

Her contract with the Florida Citrus Commission also was allowed to lapse because of the negative publicity generated by her political campaigns, the resulting boycott of Florida orange juice, and, at least reportedly, because of her divorce.

Her marriage to Bob Green failed at that time and in 1980 she divorced him. She married her second husband, Charlie Hobson Dry, in 1990, and they have tried to reestablish her career in a series of small venues. Commercial success has been elusive, and they have left behind them a series of unpaid employees and creditors. They filed for bankruptcy in Arkansas (1997) and in Tennessee (2001).

Who knows? Without Anita’s St. Bernard analogies and parental paranoia, gay people might still be in the closet. At the very least, she was fun to make fun of. Actually, she still is.

18 Comments

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  • Donna Akers
    June 6, 2007 - 11:56 am | Permalink

    It’s fun to make fun of you people, too! It’s a shame you people just can’t get over this already………how long has it been? Get a life! Anita is leaving you alone, why not do the same. How about attacking a child molester like Michael Jackson, or do you people approve of that?

  • George
    June 11, 2007 - 5:25 am | Permalink

    Donna,
    I am kind of an Anita Bryant fan…was a fan of hers in the 70’s as a child…later in life i realized all the ruckus she created..kinda felt bad for her as I always liked her..by the way, i am gay..I was raised in a fundamental baptist church like anita was affiliated with and I just think she was confused and convinced by evil haters to do what she did…She should not have done it…feel sorry that she did..she would have been an American icon like others had she not done it..you say that “gays” should leave her alone..I tend to agree,,,but the incident which happened can never be forgotten for this is pure discrimination and hate..that is like saying forget that Hitler killed all the Jews he did in WW2..God forbid we ever let hate take away people’s rights..I understand that not all people will agree with the gay lifestyle, but that does not give them the right to demand everyone believe the way they do..that simply is not freedom..That would be like me forcing you to believe like a Mormon just because I think that is the way you should be…God is above all that…I country was founded on freedom or religion and speech….the ideals and religious beliefs we all hold is our own personal right..and not for someone to take away just because it is not what they think is right!

    George

  • Donna Akers
    June 15, 2007 - 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I guess you people just don’t understand. Anita did not start this, Ruth Shack did. Anita had children in private schools and Ruth Shack wanted Anita there for moral support. This fact always seems to be overlooked. Anita does not and has never “hated” gays. She has the live and let live attitude. The media is what did her in, making her seem like a monster. You’ve got to realize the gays “hated” the wrong person. What a price for her to pay. Please don’t even compare this to Hitler. Hitler should NEVER be forgotten. I would also like to know why gays want to push their lifestyle on everyone?
    And. why does everyone seem to side step the issue of child molestation? Is that okay with you?

  • Madison
    June 16, 2007 - 7:46 am | Permalink

    Donna, if you people are right, why do you feel you must lie to make your points? Bryant most certainly did attack gay people, just as you have done here. Her vicious, slanderous lies were all over the media.

    She turned herself into the poster child for ignorance and bigotry. Nobody did that to her. Why do you people always blame others for your mistakes? Why can’t you people take responsibility for your own actions?

    The vast majority of people who hurt children in this country are white heterosexuals who were raised Christian. And it’s heterosexuals who foist their lifestyles on everyone. Heterosexual sex is flaunted on billboards, in ads, movies, television — everywhere you look.

    You people should clean up your own side of the fence before you criticize others.

  • corey
    June 16, 2007 - 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I thought she was dead already? Anita became famous because of what she did, hate people and being proud of it after her career was down the tubes. It’s the only come-back she ever made. As a matter of fact, it made her world famous and rallied people behind the struggle of human rights like only one thing since, the HIV disaster.

  • Deb
    July 5, 2007 - 11:27 am | Permalink

    All i can say,she was the most homophobic person,back in 77.Anita,they say”what goes around”comes around”. You can’t even stay with one man!! So you are a looooser!!!!!

  • Michael
    July 13, 2007 - 8:29 am | Permalink

    Donna is being disingenuous in her post.

    Ruth Shack wrote the anti-discrimination ordinance, so she was a hero in this fight and was not at all on Anita’s side.

    Also, because Anita’s children were in private schools, they would be affected by the ordinance. Through a legal quirk, public schools would not be covered by the anti-discrimination rule. Only private schools would be forbidden to fire teachers on the basis of sexual orientation.

    Anita was probably the last public figure to make a sincere anti-gay stance, which makes her story so tragic. She was wrong, and we may have some sympathy for her–but to lump Anita’s morally flawed actions with those of Ruth Shack…it is kind of like saying grouping Michael and Gabriel in with Lucifer. They all started in the same place but ended up in a very different one.

  • MJ
    February 26, 2008 - 12:41 am | Permalink

    I saw the video and while reluctantly found it entertaining really think that it was in poor taste to pie her. Afterall – she has a right to her opinions – that is what makes our country so great. But one thing I do not understand is why homosexuals are grouped in with predators of children as well as other negativisms? I know many homosexuals that are productive, well-adjusted and up-standing citizens and many even adopt/raise disadvantaged/ill children. I believe the stats show that white heterosexuals comprise most child predators. It really is not accurate or fair to lump negative stereotypes on any group of people. All people are of different character and these broad generalizations (such as w/ Anity Bryant) are often small picture and misguided attempts to provide momentary gratification. Anita was guilty of this but so were the pie throwers in my opinion. The Anita Bryant incident was a while back and I think we should grant her the opportunity of realizing that that was a different time/place/context and even forgive/move-on. People learn and change and are often misguided and misinformed (as I feel she was)- but (although I do not know) – I am willing to bet that she has changed. We all change as we mature (well some of us!). Food for thought :-) MJ

  • Mr. Rights
    March 7, 2008 - 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Anita Bryant Stood for What she knew IS Right. HomoSexuality is an Abomination to GOD! Who cares what you think. I agree with Anita and GOD. If it takes your finances to do right then so be it. She did not SELL OUT to Evil. Way to Go Anita.

  • Madison
    March 7, 2008 - 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Gay sex is the equivalent sin to working on Sunday, eating shrimp and ham, women wearing pants or improperly covering your poop in the desert — all which are abominations according to God. And all these abominations were rescinded in the New Covenant.

  • Kade
    November 13, 2008 - 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Anita Bryant and believe that homosexuality is a sin. A big one.

    And what the gays did to her is only a reflection of the evil they posses.

    Hell will be so full. Of them. But that’s OK, I hear Satan is gay.

  • Ray Russ
    December 1, 2008 - 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Boy, that ‘hell’ must be one scary place for those who believe in such silly, camp fire stories. Must be equally scary to worship such a petty little god who loves and praises his ‘children’ with one hand while simultaneously damning them with the other.

    Personally, I can’t imagine anything scarier than having a belief structure that would incorporate – much less believe – in such silly stories.

  • Vanessa
    December 11, 2008 - 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure but, I think if Anita Bryant had a chance to do it all over again she would have kept her mouth shut. Much like she does now. Sorry for misguided ambitions which only spread the ambers of fire.

  • Brien
    June 12, 2009 - 7:56 pm | Permalink

    When we look at the vilification of Ms. Bryant, merely because she had the courage to speak out against the homofascists, along with the hatred coming from them, it’s clear who the real haters are.

    Yes, she said things she never should have said, but who amongst us hasn’t?

    Anita Bryant never pied any homo activist, never made any death threats, bomb threats, kidnapping threats, usw., whereas the homofascists did all of the above and more.

    Anita, thank you for making us aware of the threat posed by homo extremists!

  • Freddie Kruger
    May 17, 2013 - 7:06 am | Permalink

    Gays participate in bowel-movement sex. Let’s keep recognizing that gays pretend this is normal behavior.

  • Pat
    September 11, 2013 - 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Going down memory lane, I *just* decided to search for what AB is doing. Glad to know that she is still ‘in trouble’ after her dreadful action.

    As a retiree (professionally as well as politically) this *ole’ coote* still deeply recalls the whole event from those days. While now living in NH (from NJ) the positive attitudes of 21st century NE are marvelous. My spouse and I are together 42 yrs! Unlike Bryant and HER marital disaster, we will never separate “until death do us part!”

    And, yes, cannot even think about Florida (or orange juice) without her passing my mind.

  • Finger Freddie
    December 12, 2013 - 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey Ignorant Freddie Kruger, many straight men love it when a woman takes a steamy dump in their mouths. As you well know from all your porn searches, so sweep your own front porch then get back with us.

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