Anita Bryant’s War on Gay Rights
S1: Most of the time, nobody in Miami cared to watch the Dade County Commission go about its business, but the public hearing on January 18th, 1977, that was different. It was impossible to get a seat.
S2: There were hordes of people waiting to get into the building.
S1: Ruth Shack was on the Dade County Commission. Those hordes of people, they traveled from all over South Florida on chartered church buses because they were angry about a bill she had sponsored.
S2: I had a knot in my stomach and a real fear of what was coming.
S1: The bill at issue was an amendment to Dade County’s nondiscrimination ordinance. If it passed, it would shore up gay rights in Miami, though in a limited way,
S3: homosexual acts will remain illegal and barred by law. This ordinance merely says that there should be no discrimination in so far as housing, accommodation and jobs are concerned by persons who have homosexual preferences.
S1: There were TV cameras in the hearing room, but the full meeting got taped more primitively on a Dictaphone voice recorder. The sound quality isn’t great, but I want you to hear some of it anyway, because you can really feel the tension entitlement.
S4: Now we ask this question, would you like us to continue to apply for another time?
S1: The church groups were loud and they brought placards, don’t legislate morality, protect our children, God says no. But the bill’s supporters did not back down. A bisexual psychologist testified about all the benefits that would come from scaling back.
S4: Societal homophobia will prevent a world full of sexual.
S1: An activist named Bob also spoke up that day. He says that he, too, was focused on the community’s mental health.
S5: We weren’t there asking anybody to endorse our lovemaking. It’s none of their business.
S1: At that public hearing, Kunst said that all he wanted was an acknowledgement that gay people were human beings. We are your children, he said. I went for the service.
S3: He got booed. Down and out, you’re not guilty of things I believe your
S1: was 34, that he knew firsthand how discrimination could upend lives in the mid 70s, he’d worked in promotions for a Miami soccer team. He’d like the job and it had seemed secure until people in management saw a brochure for a gay conference on his desk
S5: and then immediately fired me right on the spot. This was just typical of the hysteria at that particular time,
S1: an ordinance like this one would have shielded him and other gay Miamians from getting punished for being themselves. The bill’s opponents didn’t believe that gay people needed protections in the workplace, the housing market and public accommodations. They actually thought the opposite. The Dade County needed protection from gay people.
S4: I do not want to see the.
S1: A Baptist pastor read from Chapter one of romance about men committing indecent acts with other men and getting punished by God. And then near the end of the hearing, the day’s biggest star approached the microphone. Anita Bryant was a beauty queen, a pop star and the spokeswoman for Florida Orange Juice, she was a kind of celebrity that doesn’t really exist anymore. A singer and variety performer who is essentially famous for being a square. She was someone you might see headlining at a county fair. Bryant had always been enthusiastic about sharing her Christian views, but she didn’t think of herself as political. She was 36 years old, and when she stood up at the public hearing, she said she was speaking as a wife and mother. She told the commissioners that gay people weren’t the ones suffering, that she and other Christians were the real victims in this clip. You can hear her voice tremble with emotion. It’s a lot clearer than the other soundbites from that day because it ran on the local news.
S6: I believe I have that right that I can and do say no to a very serious moral issue that would violate my rights and the rights of all the decent and morally upstanding citizens, regardless of their race or religion.
S1: When the public comments were over, the Dade County commissioners got called on one by one to announce their votes. The first commissioner, a Baptist minister, said he’d made his decision after reading God’s Bible.
S4: Forward, no. Well, for the next pope was also announced
S1: Anita Bryant side was winning. But then suddenly everything shifted. There was one, yes, then another, then two more after that. When Ruth Shack voted yes, it was all over. The Dade County Commission had made its choice. It was going to support gay rights by. For the gay people in the room, this was a hard won victory. They’ve stood up to bigotry and come out triumphant. With this amendment in place, they could live more freely and openly and feel safer at work and in their homes. For Anita Bryant, the commission’s vote was an outrage, but Bryant wasn’t ready to give up that day, she decided to fight back to lend her name and her voice to the anti-gay cause. That decision would galvanize the American gay rights movement. It would also help create a new brand of conservative activism that would shift the country to the right. Back inside the hearing room, Ruth Shack thought about everything she’d seen and heard and what may be coming next.
S2: I felt I had won this battle, but we were going to lose the war. I saw those people out front and they were not going to let this thing happen.
S1: This is one year I’m Josh Levin in this series, we’re going to tell you about the people and the struggles that Shaped a single year in American history. Nineteen seventy seven. Why 1977? Because it was a year when the nation’s rule seemed on the verge of getting rewritten and politics, culture, sports, religion and so much else, change in America felt possible, but was far from assured. The new president, Jimmy Carter, had vowed to transform Washington, but it wasn’t yet clear if he could deliver on that promise. The feminist movement was gaining strength and picking up fervent opposition. Roots launched an urgent conversation about the legacy of American slavery and ignited an enormous backlash. And in Dade County, Florida, a local fight over gay rights became a huge national standoff, one with life altering stakes for millions of Americans. At the center of it all was Anita Bryant, I
S6: believe more than ever before that there are evil forces round about, even perhaps disguised as something good. If we take these rights away from one segment of our population, whose rights do we take away next? Do what you want in the privacy
S3: of your own home. Don’t tell me I got accepted my.
S1: Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental illness, but Bob cancer had never felt like he had any kind of disorder. He’d known he was gay since he was a kid in the 1950s, and he was certain that his sexual orientation hadn’t been a choice to believe that sexual repression caused emotional repression in the 70s. He led workshops where naked strangers, men and women closed their eyes and touched each other.
S5: No sex, but sweating bullets. And our position was, you can’t tell the difference between male and female judge. If you’re willing to take the risk and put up with all the crap, why wouldn’t you want to have this intimate relationship with any number of people that you wanted?
S1: Miami was considered something of an oasis for gay Americans, a place that at least compared to the rest of the country, was relatively carefree. But Florida sodomy laws were still on the books, and even in liberal Miami, gay people knew their freedom had limits.
S5: People were dancing 21st Street Beach. On the other hand, the police would come and raid bars every election.
S1: Dade County, now known as Miami-Dade, is one of three counties that altogether make up metropolitan Miami. It includes downtown Miami and Miami Beach. As of 1976, it was perfectly legal in Dade County to fire someone because they were gay. But that wasn’t true everywhere in the United States. Detroit, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and a bunch more cities had all recently passed legislation that made gay people a protected group. Kunst, who’d been fired simply for having a pamphlet on his desk, thought it was time for Miami to join that list. He just needed to find a politician who felt the same way.
S2: When other little girls wanted to be Shirley Temple at Forward five, I decided I wanted to be Huey Long.
S1: Ruth Shack had to wait a while to live out her political dreams. She got married in her early 20s, then stayed home to take care of her three daughters. As the girls got older, she became more active and progressive causes. And in 1976, the 45 year old Shack ran for office. For the first time,
S2: I was the woman on the stage with men in blue suits. So I found a yellow, a bright yellow dress and that became my uniform.
S1: Did you have more than one of those dresses or would you just, like, wash it every day?
S2: That’s a state secret more than.
S1: Well, Ruth Shack won that race for the Dade County Commission. Not long after she took office, a group of activists came to speak with her about gay rights. They told Shack that one small change to the county’s nondiscrimination ordinance could make a huge difference. Dade County already barred discrimination based on race, religion and sex. All those activists wanted was to add forewords to that existing list affectional or sexual preference. Today, that terminology is considered offensive because it implies that homosexuality is a choice. But in the 1970s, it was standard language adopted a nondiscrimination clauses in nearly 40 cities.
S2: When they described it to me, I said, I’m your woman. Yes, I sponsored the amendment because on television at night you would see paddy wagons pull up to bars hauling out men in business suits. That made me nauseous.
S1: Ruth Shack didn’t think the amendment would kick up much controversy. A few years earlier, when a similar ordinance had passed in Seattle, the gay magazine The Advocate had celebrated what a non-event it was. But Miami would be different. Miami had Anita Bryant.
S6: Hi, I’m Anita Bryant. This is my husband, Bob. As you can see, we’re in Florida. The land that is sweet and fresh is the orange juice that comes from.
S1: Anita Bryant and Bob Green lived with their four children in a Spanish stucco mansion on Biscayne Bay. It had a waterfall, a heart shaped double Jacuzzi and a replica of the Anita Bryant bust from the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Bryan had been a star since the late 1950s when she came in third in the Miss America pageant.
S3: Anita Bryant Miss Oklahoma.
S1: In the talent competition, she sang When the Boys Talk About the Girls. By 1960, she had two top ten hits of her own, Paper Roses, and in my little corner of the world,
S2: come with me to my little
S1: corner of the world. Bryan carved out a cultural niche by standing foursquare against the revolutions of the 60s and 70s. She threw her support behind the Vietnam War, calling it a fight between atheism and God. When The Doors Jim Morrison got arrested for exposing himself on stage, Bryant headlined a rally for decency. A few weeks later, in 1971, she sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic at halftime of the Super Bowl.
S3: Ladies and gentlemen, The Voice of America.
S1: Anita Bryant, one of the main architects of Anita Bryant career, was her booking agent, coincidentally enough, that agent was Ruth Shack husband, Richard Shack.
S2: He had her on every one of his conventions, every one of his special shows. He would use her, she come on scene Battle Hymn of the Republic
S4: and go home.
S2: And she made a very
S4: good living at that time.
S1: Bryant’s most important deal was her 100000 dollar a year contract with the Florida Citrus Commission.
S6: My twins Levin 100 percent orange juice from Florida any time.
S1: More than anything else, it was Bryant’s TV ads for Florida orange juice that made her a national celebrity.
S6: A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine. Orange juice, a general. From the Florida Sunshine Dream
S1: in the 70s, Bryan also performed for free at Baptist churches across the country. She said that for her, these evangelical duties would always come first. Bryant’s oldest child, Robert Greene Jr., was 13 years old in 1977.
S7: When our parents weren’t off doing shows, they’d call us kids together before bed for family devotions.
S1: Robert declined a traditional back and forth interview for this podcast, but he did agree to record responses to questions. I sent him over email. I started by asking what he saw at home that the public didn’t see.
S7: My mom had made a kneeling cushion on which she had transcribed in needlepoint the exact words Billy Graham had spoken when he came to our house for dinner. Once we’d take turns kneeling on Billy Graham’s words to confess our sins and ask forgiveness and give thanks for the cat and the dog and the parakeets and all that.
S1: Robert says that his mother didn’t really keep up with current events. She heard about the gay rights ordinance at her Baptist church where her pastor urged her to speak out against it.
S7: Our pastor was counseling her, encouraging her, in fact, to see herself as a prophet in the mold of the biblical judge, Debra, who God had chosen to lead his people through a crisis.
S1: Brian was alarmed by what her pastor was telling her about the ordinance, especially the idea that gay teachers might educate her own children. She got even more distressed when she learned that Ruth Shack, her agent’s wife, had sponsored the gay rights amendment. Brian had given money to Shack political campaign and had even taped an ad for her. Now she felt ashamed of that support and mortified that she had encouraged other Christians to vote for Shack. Brian hoped a personal appeal might change Ruth Shack mind, and so she picked up the phone.
S2: She told me about how her God would not allow her to support this. She had to oppose it. And I said, my God is very different. That’s not the God that I know. And we have very little to say after that.
S1: After that phone call, Brian decided she had to speak out publicly, and when the Dade County Commission voted to protect gay people from discrimination, she refused to accept defeat. In late January 1977, Brian called a meeting at her mansion on Biscayne Bay. A dozen people came, including leaders from the Baptist Catholic, an Orthodox Jewish faiths. The best way forward, they decided, was to launch a petition drive. They need 10000 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. At that point, the people of Dade County could vote to repeal the ordinance to allow employers and landlords to discriminate against gay people once again. Brian announced his plan at a press conference in February. At that event, she stood in front of a big banner. It said, Save Our Children from homosexuals.
S3: The fight against the county law on gay rights moved to some 20 Dade County churches today, according to the organizers of the group that want the voters to be able to cast ballots on the controversial issue.
S1: By early March, Anita Bryant and her group Save Our Children Inc. had collected around 60000 signatures, six times. The amount required to pass the gay rights amendment would be on the ballot in June 1977.
S6: Anyone has a right to be a homosexual. It’s a choice. And that’s exactly the problem, is that we are saying that there are no human rights to correct our children.
S5: The very first things that she did was to immediately accuse us of trying to recruit out of the high schools.
S1: Bob Kunst was part of an activist group called the Dade County Coalition for the Humanistic Rights of Gays’. That group had fought hard to get the anti-discrimination law. Now they had to battle to save it. Here’s Kunst back in 1977.
S3: Well, we’re saying is that some of the most famous people in the world have engaged Plato, Socrates, Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci. The people who are already in the schools that they’re teaching, the less we can tone down about the anxiety of relating to same sex and more that, you know, people will be able to cooperate with each other rather than being in confusion and always in a state of chaos.
S1: Bob Kunst became the public face of Miami’s gay rights movement. He was charismatic, eloquence and handsome, and he never back down from a fight.
S5: I’ve been confrontational my whole life. I don’t put up with crap from anybody. It doesn’t matter who the people who don’t get it is not my problem. It’s their problem.
S1: Kunst was considered a radical. He believed that all gay people should live their lives unapologetically, just like he did. But in 1977, that kind of bravado could be dangerous, putting you at greater risk of getting fired or physically attacked. And so some gay leaders preferred a more restrained approach to homosexuals.
S3: I carefully avoiding overt signs of homosexuality because they feel it is a fight for individual liberty and not just gay rights.
S1: Kunst thought it was both immoral and self-defeating to make concessions to bigots. He said that those more cautious activists had one foot in the closet. The conflict between the uncompromising Kunst and his more pragmatic colleagues came to a head over orange juice.
S5: We simply said we’re not going to buy her product. This has nothing to do with whether we like orange juice or not. We like orange juice. On the other hand, she’s here to take away our jobs.
S1: Kunst on an orange juice boycott would be a show of force, a way to demonstrate the gay community is political and economic power. The moderates and the Dade County Coalition argued that gay people were in no position to make threats, that they had to be sensible and conciliatory. The moderates won that argument, the coalition would not endorse a boycott, that was it for Bob consed he quit to start a new group, which he called the Miami Victory Campaign. The activists he left behind were not impressed. They told the media that Kunst was on a personal ego trip.
S5: We were opening up the door to the entire debate on human sexuality. And meanwhile, the coalition was in a state of Frico. The closet cases went berserk.
S1: The Dade County Coalition was fracturing and other ways to lesbian feminists also abandon the group alienated by sexism and a male run operation on the anti-gay right side. Anita Bryant Save Our Children was totally united, brought together by a shared disgust for homosexuality and for gay men in particular. Polling showed that most women voters in Dade County supported gay rights, at least in theory, Save Our Children did everything it could to change their minds.
S3: The Orange Bowl parade, Miami’s gift to the nation, wholesome entertainment. But in San Francisco, when they take to the streets, it’s a parade of homosexuals, men hugging other men cavorting with little boys.
S1: The message of that television ad was very clear that gay men preyed on children. Save Our Children’s print campaigns were even more explicit on Mother’s Day 1977. The group ran an ad that sprawled over most of a page in the Miami Herald. It described a hair raising pattern of sexual perverts molesting kids. Below that warning was a collage of newspaper headlines. Homosexuals used Scout troop sinnett shown movie of child porn teacher accused of sex acts with boys, students,
S2: anything to panic parents to make them think that homosexual teachers would seduce their kids.
S1: Lillian Faderman is the author of the book The Gay Revolution.
S2: As Anita Bryant kept saying, homosexuals can’t reproduce, so they have to recruit and they’re going to recruit your children into homosexuality.
S1: By the 1970s, there was authoritative scientific research showing that gay men were in no way predisposed to having sexual interest in children. Nevertheless, media reports about gay predators were everywhere in 1977, spreading the lie that homosexuality and paedophilia were inherently connected. For Anita Bryant and Save Our Children. Those inflammatory headlines were the fodder they needed to claim that gay teachers were a threat. Brian wasn’t just making that argument in public. Here again is their son, Robert Greene Jr..
S7: At the time, I was shy, anxious, awkward kid, and I was all too aware that I’d never fit the masculine mold of my dad. But I secretly craved understanding and acceptance for whatever I was or whatever I would turn out to be.
S1: Robert had an English teacher that he really loved. When his mom picked him up at school one day, she had a pleasant chat with that teacher who Robert refers to as Mr. Aldar, a pseudonym. And then after they drove away, Anita Bryant called Mr. Aldar effeminate.
S7: I didn’t yet know what my mom meant by effeminate, but the way she said it made me want to defend Mr. Aldar, though the only thing I could think to say was he is not anyway. By the time we got home, I found out what she meant, that effeminacy in men and boys was a common sign of homosexuality. Oh, and the sickness was one you could catch if you got too close to someone else. Well, having heard her out, I went on liking and respecting Mr. Aldar quietly and he went on seeing me through a rocky time. It wasn’t long before my parents pulled me and my siblings out of that school and plunked us down in the presumably gay free school run by our fundamentalist church. I never did see Mr. Alter again. Maybe it was just as well after all the public condemnation my parents had begun heaping on the lives of people who may have included Mr. Aldar. I don’t think I could have faced him.
S1: When she talked to the press, Anita Bryant insisted that she wasn’t any kind of bigot. She said that her anti-gay crusade was motivated by Christian compassion.
S6: I love homosexuals, if you can believe that. I love them enough to tell them the truth, because I know that there is hope for the homosexuals, that if they’re willing to turn from seeing the same as any individual, that that they can be excellent sex, as the same as there can be an ax murderer and a thief or anybody.
S1: The truth was Brian’s talking points were hateful and extreme. She said that the Dade County ordinance would protect the right to have intercourse with beasts. She said that if her children were exposed to homosexuality, I might as well feed them garbage. The Save Our Children press kit was even more horrifying, one document had the title Why Certain Sexual Deviations are Punishable by Death. In the eight years since the uprising in New York City, Stonewall in the United States hosted its first pride marches and states from California to Connecticut repealed their sodomy laws. But by the mid 70s, there was a sense in activist circles that the movement was slowing down and that gay Americans had become politically apathetic. Anita Bryant outrageous rhetoric made everyone take notice, the vote in Miami became something like a national referendum on homosexuality. The advocate told its 60000 subscribers that if Bryant won in Florida, her hate crusade would soon be at every gay Americans front door. The historian Lillian Faderman
S2: I loved with Eric Hoffer said about how movements can exist very well without a God, but they can’t exist at all without a devil. Anita Bryant became the devil of the gay rights movement, and I think that really helped the movement organize and pull together.
S1: There were Dade County fundraisers and gay communities nationwide. A stop Anita disco dance in New York, an orange ball in Chicago, a beat Anita Ethan in Cleveland, a bar in San Francisco held an Anita Bryant Look-Alike Contest open to men, women and anyone in between. One of the judges was Harvey Milk, who later that year would become California’s first openly gay elected official. The orange juice boycott that Bob constant push for ended up taking off and getting immortalized in song by Rod McEwan.
S6: Don’t drink your kids. I don’t drink the orange juice. I think we
S2: don’t think they are. I think it might lead to all kinds of bigotry.
S1: Gay bars replaced screwdrivers with Anita Bryant, vodka and apple juice. A group called the gay guerrillas took to puncturing orange juice cartons in New York supermarkets. There were shirts, buttons and bumper stickers that said Anita sucks oranges. In February 1977, a planned Anita Bryant TV show got called off because of her controversial political activities. Just as she had at that public hearing, Brian portrayed herself as a victim. She said that the cancellation had destroyed a dream that she’d had since she was a child. But Bryant vowed to press on no matter what. As the Save Our Children campaign intensified, Brian hosted a meeting in the courtyard of her home with folding chairs facing a movie screen, her 13 year old son Robert wasn’t supposed to watch, but he snuck out of his bedroom to see what was going on.
S7: Cast onto the screen from a slide projector was one grainy black and white photo after another showing a man with a man, a boy with a boy, a man with a boy naked or mostly doing things with or to each other that I couldn’t understand. A guy I took to be a police detective was talking into the microphone, describing cases in evidence, I think, while advancing the slides. I guess mom and dad figured that by inviting these people over and showing them what I saw and connecting those images with the prospect of gay teachers recruiting boys to take part in such acts. They could sicken or scare the audience into doing anything to repeal that amendment.
S1: As the referendum drew closer, Dade County’s gay activists got some help from New York City,
S8: you know, the Bronx alphabet. Fucking A. Fucking B, fuckin C.
S1: That’s Ethan Geto. He was thirty three years old in 1977 and one of the few openly gay campaign managers in the United States,
S8: there were a lot of talent, the gay people already in politics at that point, but they were in the closet. They wouldn’t ever take on this kind of a campaign. So I felt an obligation.
S1: Geto got to Miami just a few months before Election Day. He learned very quickly how meaningful the Dade County fight was for gay people all over America.
S8: I would get one envelope like this after another, just a Dade, Tony gay committee or whatever it is, then written in some rudimentary stationery with a twenty three dollars and change in it. And it said, Dear Dade County gay people, we’re very isolated here in our community. In Oklahoma we go to this one bar is the only gay gathering place. It’s only one night a week and we try to keep it hidden and we don’t have much money. But we took up a collection and we send you everything we could spare. And I got hundreds of other letters like that, and you could see the people suffering and they were so hopeful that we would do something and it would somehow it would change things, you know?
S1: On the ground in Miami, the life or death stakes of the referendum were terrifyingly clear. One of Geto colleagues had a shotgun aimed at his head by an attacker who threatened to blow his brains out. And in the spring of 1977, the coalition’s headquarters got attacked.
S8: Now somebody threw a Molotov cocktail through the window, blew up at a desk where I was, and I got, you know, I couldn’t hear for two days. It was scary. There was a flash, big noise. If it had been something a little more professional, I would have been dead.
S1: Ruth Shack, who sponsored the gay rights amendment, was besieged with menacing phone calls. And worse.
S2: I’ll never forget going to Saks Fifth Avenue, going into a dressing room to try something on, have a woman follow me into the dressing room, put her hand on my chest, push me against the wall and spit in my face. Obviously, I haven’t gotten over it yet.
S1: The harassment and abuse were particularly intense. And Miami’s Cuban-American community, Jessie Mantega was a leader in the gay activist group Latinos, Pro Derechos Humanos, Latinos for Human Rights.
S8: We were only went on a Spanish language radio talk show. And then we will call our mostly white, mostly nasty, I think, a message. Yes, it was very awful.
S1: One caller said that all gay people should be deported. Another said they should be put to death. Montenegro’s friend, Herb Ramos’ heard all those messages two days after that broadcast, Ramos died by suicide. Montenegro says that Ramos suffered from depression and that he can’t be certain that those radio collars are what pushed his friend over the edge. Another activist, Manolo Gomez, was much less circumspect. Gomez called Herb Ramos the first victim of the Anita Bryant crusade. Shortly after Gomes started to speak out, someone set his car on fire.
S3: Thirty four year old admitted homosexual and Cuban gay rights activist Manuel Gomez, whose late model car was firebombed last month.
S1: Amid all this violence, Ethan Geto was trying to pull together a winning strategy. First, he commissioned a survey which showed that the majority of Dade County voters did support human rights for gays. At the same time, those voters didn’t exactly approve of homosexuality. Lillian Faderman again.
S2: I think even liberals assumed that homosexuality should be always the love that dare not speak its name
S1: in Miami and all over America. The majority view in 1977 was that gay people and gay sex acts were extremely distasteful, given that Geto decided to focus the campaign on abstract big picture concepts like justice and equality. One of his ads showed a hammer chipping away at the Bill of Rights.
S2: They really decided that they would downplay the whole gay issue, which was a terrible mistake. They didn’t answer the huge attacks on how gay people would corrupt children. They sort of wanted to bury all of that and pretend that this was not an attack on gay people.
S1: That Bill of Rights, but did look pretty tepid alongside Save Our Children’s Child Molester ads. But Geto says he didn’t want to dignify that smear with a response.
S8: Those things are traps. You don’t want to give these stories legs. You want to try to change the dialogue, change the language, change the focus and the thinking to other things.
S1: Geto does acknowledge making one big mistake. His coalition was arguing that gay people deserve to be protected from discrimination. The problem was they didn’t highlight actual cases where gay people had been discriminated against.
S8: I never put an ad in Dade County that said, you know, I lived with this man or this woman. For 42 years, we took care of each other. We loved each other, we sacrificed for each other. And when he died. The family wouldn’t let me come to the funeral. They wouldn’t let me have one photograph. This is what we had to do. We got to put a human face on this.
S1: Right around the time Ethan Geto got to Miami, Bob Kunst was breaking away to start his own activist group constant think much of Geto or his campaign,
S5: terrible, terrible, clueless. It was so stupid and such a terrible waste of money. And they kept on repeating it. That was the worst part of it all. Their ads were just the same drivel going after the same scene, completely ignoring reality. What are you going to do?
S1: The Geto and Kunst approaches differed in style as well as substance. When the governor of Florida came out in support of Anita Bryant, Geto put together a carefully worded reply about human rights. Kunst called the governor a sexually insecure lame duck.
S8: He was very sardonic, sarcastic, hostile, mocking. I am proud about my sexuality, have come out and taking a lot of guff for it. I talk to people about it, but, you know, we’re trying to win a majority vote on Election Day in a ballot. And this is not the way at this point in time that you reach people. That’s the way you alienate them.
S1: Save our children’s goal in the spring of 1977 was to expand its coalition, Anita Bryant waved an Israeli flag at a rally for Soviet Jews and spoke at a gathering in Miami’s Little Havana. The Cuban people left one enemy to come to a free country, she said. It would break my heart if Miami became another Sodom and Gomorrah and you would have to leave.
S9: A prejudice against gay people is pretty diverse across racial and ethnic groups in our society. What was happening in Miami reflected what was happening at that moment in America.
S1: Marvin Dunn is the author of Black Miami. In the 20th century, in the 1970s, he believed that people like him, a straight black man, had an obligation to speak up for gay people, just as black Americans needed as many groups as possible to advocate for them. But in 1977, Dunn didn’t see that argument catching on,
S9: the general view, particularly among black people, was that gay people choose to be gay. It was as if this is an outgroup that chooses to be treated the way that they’re being treated.
S1: Ethan Geto had very little time to mount a campaign, not nearly enough, he thought, to change people’s minds. And so the coalition basically wrote off the Cuban and black votes, choosing to invest its resources elsewhere and Bob const. He wasn’t willing to concede anything. In May 1977, he went to speak to a group of black leaders, by the end of that meeting, those leaders were shouting at conscript to leave
S9: Bob love Bob comments. And if you saw him perform, you could know that he liked himself. He knew how to use his voice. He knew how to use his intelligence to make the case. And it was very difficult to dismiss him because Bob and just walk away. He stayed in your face.
S5: I stated my case. This is who I am. This is what’s going on. Take it or leave it. You don’t want to give us our constitutional rights up your ass.
S1: I can confirm that Bob Kunst has a strong personality. I started our interview by asking him to say his name. He then talked for 25 minutes without stopping, pausing only to ask if I was still on the line. So, yes, he can be a lot to take. But in 1977, he wasn’t saying anything unreasonable. The point he was making that to fight for gay lives, those lives need to be lived out in the open. It’s hard to argue with Bob Kunst, the loudest, clearest contrast to Anita Bryant news magazine covers reported pieces in the national papers, features on the network news. They all frame the gay rights referendum as Anita versus Bob
S6: singing orange juice advocate Anita Bryant says God has put a burden on her heart to crusade against the ordinance. The gay leader, who has rocketed international publicity by responding to Bryant, his Bob Kunst became active in national issues while still in high school.
S1: From the media’s perspective, Kunst and Bryant were perfect foils. A subversive, unabashedly gay Jew and a self-declared paragon of Christian womanhood constantly appreciated the pairing. In the long run, he thought Bryant’s extremism was a good thing, that it would help build support for the gay rights cause.
S3: I think that she is doing more for the gay community and more for the humanist movement than anybody else on this planet. I support everything that she is doing. I would like to see her have as much exposure as possible. I think that she is rallying the community together like I have never seen before. There’s no way I could have done it on my own
S1: in the last days before the referendum vote. Bryant and Kunst debated each other at a Miami Kiwanis Club.
S6: In our campaign, we talk about the danger of the homosexual becoming a role model to our children.
S3: You are asking Anita for the right to discriminate.
S1: They were each given 12 minutes to speak. Brian spent half of hers belting out the Battle Hymn of
S3: the Republic of Lorig.
S1: Kunst for once, didn’t know what to say.
S5: If I had thought properly, I would have gone right next to her and started singing with her. That would have opened up a whole other different chapter in my life.
S6: Tomorrow, Dade voters will make the decision that will either keep the gay rights ordinance or repeal it. The controversial law has been on the books for over four months. Voting at this precinct has been busy all day. People are not spending very long inside the voting.
S1: Bob said he was certain that the June 7th referendum would break his way.
S3: They’re going to vote against bigotry and hatred, against hypocrisy and intolerance, against second class citizenship for anyone. We are going to win.
S1: He was wrong. 69 percent of voters cast ballots to repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance. Gay rights had gotten trounced in Dade County.
S3: The strongest vote against the homosexuals was in the Cuban community. But blacks, middle class whites, blue collar precincts and upper middle class areas helped repeal the ordinance by more than two to one.
S1: For Anita Bryant, a lot had changed in five months at that public hearing in January 1977. She felt outraged and defeated in June. She was exultant and she was a winner tonight.
S6: The laws of God and the cultural values of man have been vindicated. The people of Dade County, the normal majority, have said enough.
S4: Enough, you know,
S1: when it was all over, Bob Green leaned down to kiss his wife.
S3: This is what heterosexuals do.
S8: If it was extraordinarily painful
S1: Ethan Geto
S8: I thought we were going to do a little better. And it just showed me what a steep mount we had to climb.
S1: When Ruth Shack got up to speak that night, she tried to sound hopeful.
S6: There is love and there is understanding in this room that just won’t quit. And I’m very, very proud to be a part of what we’re doing to.
S2: It hurt. And I was so angry
S1: and Bob const, he says that he never saw that 1977 loss as a real defeat.
S5: We were going for an emotional and sexual liberation and we said that night you could mark your calendar and your watch, just like Christmas and Hanukkah were coming back.
S1: On the night of the Dade County referendum, gay people in San Francisco took to the streets for a spontaneous demonstration.
S6: There must be hundreds and hundreds of people here. The people have taken over blocks and blocks of the Castro area. Why did you come here tonight?
S3: I think we have to get off our ass and start showing strength right now because it’s getting to be too late. It makes you scared. It’s just an emotional thing.
S6: You know, it’s a lot of fear in it for me. And why are you here tonight? Because I’m a lesbian woman. Because I feel that the Bill of Rights has been wadded up in a cheap piece of paper and thrown to the trash can.
S4: And whatever she’s doing in the name of God, she’s squelching human beings freedom.
S1: There would be more demonstrations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, there had been a good amount of resistance to Anita Bryant before the repeal vote, but this was something altogether different. Lillian Faderman sees those June 1977 protests as a turning point in American history.
S2: I think before Dade County, most gays and lesbians did not want to be political. Dade County woke us up. Dade County made us realize that we all had to be political. We all had to learn to fight homophobia. And I think that that really solidified the gay rights movement.
S1: The fight in Dade County solidified the anti-gay rights movement to what Anita Bryant called a normal majority would become a powerful voting bloc. Christian conservatives would help elect Ronald Reagan in 1980 and remained a force in American politics long after he left the White House. After her big win in Miami, Bryant hit the road to spread the Save Our Children gospel
S3: Anita Bryant wasted no time today. She left Florida on her way to what was called the new Christian crusade in Norfolk, Virginia. She has said no matter what it costs her personally, she’s going nationwide with her anti-gay rights campaign.
S1: Save Our Children’s winning streak would carry into 1978 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon. Voters repealed ordinances just like the one in Dade County. Wherever Anita Bryant went, she got hailed as a hero, but in those same places, she also got jeered and shouted down at a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa. She talked about all the opposition she’d been
S6: facing and went into a place called Norfolk, Virginia. And we’re met with protest and all kinds of problems.
S1: And then
S6: out of nowhere,
S1: a man rushed the stage with a high tail, his state
S3: of state.
S6: Well, at least it’s a fruit pie.
S3: Well, let’s pray for him right now. Need it. Let’s pray.
S1: Anita Bryant cried as the pie ran down her face.
S6: We’re praying for him to be delivered from his deviant lifestyle. Father and I just.
S1: Bryant’s career as a secular entertainer was basically over. Ruth Shack husband, Bryan’s booking agent, dropped her as a client, saying that she was exploiting her vicious, hate filled campaign for professional gain. The Florida Citrus Commission would stop running her orange juice commercials, a poll of 800 high school students named Bryant and Adolph Hitler as the famous woman and famous man who’d done the most damage to the world. Bryant had said she was willing to sacrifice her livelihood to advocate for what she believed in. But when she did lose her career, she didn’t see it as a natural consequence of her actions. Instead, she complained that she was being blacklisted.
S6: We’re being threatened and there’s all kinds of harassment. But I still know that God’s going to take care of us. I’m not afraid. We’re not afraid.
S1: The New York Times took up for Bryant writing in an editorial that she had the right to express her views. But for most gay Americans, Bryant’s decline and fall didn’t present any kind of moral quandary. Two weeks after the vote in Miami, a gay man named Robert Hillsborough was stabbed to death in San Francisco. Witnesses said that one of the men who killed him was shouting anti-gay slurs. Hillsborough, his mother filed a five million dollar civil rights suit, naming Anita Bryant as a defendant, that suit alleged that her son’s attackers had yelled out something else, too. Here’s one for Anita. Brian would get dropped from the lawsuit. The California judge said that his court had no jurisdiction over a Florida defendant, but the words of Robert Hillsborough, his mother, wouldn’t be so easy to forget. My son’s blood, Mrs. Hillsborough, I said, is on her hands. The tide would turn against Save Our Children in California. In 1978, voters statewide rejected an initiative to ban gay people from working in public schools. That victory was made possible in large part because of lessons learned in Dade County. The human faces that had been showcased in the Miami campaign, those were front and center in California. And while there were still disagreements, all of those different voices of radicals and moderates and lesbians and gay men added up to something bigger in what’s become known as his hope speech, Harvey Milk said that Anita Bryant and Dade Co. had started a conversation that America needed to have. Once you have dialogue starting, Milk said, you know, you can break down prejudice. A year after the Dade County referendum, Bob Kunst launched its own petition drive to get gay rights back on the ballot in Miami.
S3: This time, we also will be on an offensive Levin instead of on a defensive basis, which the former campaign was. We’re going to be talking about lifestyle, not apologizing for it and encompassing it in terms of human rights.
S1: The amendment lost again, though this time the vote was closer to decades after that. In 1998, the county commission voted once again to ban discrimination against gay people in this time. The law stayed in place Bob Kunst doesn’t think he gets enough credit for all the work he did in the 70s. He spent a good chunk of our interview talking about how much he hates the modern LGBTQ movement.
S5: We gave him one victory after another. If they can’t be winners, it’s not my problem. So what am I supposed to do? Go crazy because they’re losers.
S1: In recent years, Kunst has rallied behind Donald Trump. He took to carrying a Gays’ for Trump sign and another that said Hillary for prison. Anita Bryant divorced her husband, Bob Green, in 1980. She told a reporter that she’d been used and abused and that she’d contemplated suicide. The answers don’t seem quite so simple now, Bryant said. I guess I can better understand the Gays’ and the feminists anger and frustration. If she did have a true change of heart, it didn’t last. In 1992, she said people hated me because I spoke the truth. We reached out to Anita Bryant, but she declined our interview request. She’s 81 years old now and back living where she grew up in Oklahoma. Her son, Robert, is in his late 50s and he has a family of his own, a wife and two children.
S2: I’m Sarah Sarah Green and Anita Bryant, my grandma, my dad’s mom.
S1: Sarah says her grandmother doted on her when she was small in a very Anita Bryant way.
S2: I always knew she was like a singer because when I was really little, she used to bring me on stage to like, sing Jesus Loves Me and stuff.
S1: By middle school, Sarah had started to hear about Bryant as a historical figure, the woman who’d fought against gay rights in the 1970s.
S2: I didn’t really think very hard about it because the explanation my parents always gave was, you know, she doesn’t personally hate gay people as people. And she was my grandma and she was always very loving toward me. And so that was a very easy explanation until I kind of realized later in in high school and then in college that I myself was gay.
S1: Sarah had no intention of coming out to her grandmother, but then they spoke on her 21st birthday.
S2: She’s a big happy birthday phone call type because she likes to very dramatically sing it. We were talking and she was talking about how, like, if I had faith, the right man would come along and she just would not stop talking about the right man coming along. And I just snapped and was like, I I’d hope that he doesn’t come along because I’m gay and I don’t want a man to come along. And what she said was, oh, like I know that you think that this is who you are, but it isn’t because homosexuality isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. And it’s a delusion invented by the evil one is what she said, the devil to lead people astray from God. And that if I were to truly, like, focus my life on God and faith, that I would kind of come back to myself and come to the realization that I’m actually straight. It’s very hard to argue with someone who thinks that like an integral part of your identity is just an evil delusion. She wants a relationship with a person who doesn’t exist because I’m not the person she wants me to be. And I’m not going to have a relationship with somebody who can only have one on their terms.
S1: Robert Greene Jr. says the last time he saw his mother was half a year ago at a family wedding
S7: after the ceremony. My wife and I were talking with her at the back of the church, catching up on family news when we mentioned her that Sarah had just gotten engaged to another woman. My mom’s face froze all at once. Her eyes widened, her smile opened, and out came the oddest sound. Oh, instead of taking Sarah as she is, my mom has chosen to pray that Sarah will eventually conform to my mom’s idea of what God wants Sarah to be.
S2: My partner and I have talked a lot about whether we want to invite her to our wedding. I think I probably will eventually just call her and ask if she even wants an invitation because I genuinely do not know how she would respond. I don’t know if she would be offended if I didn’t invite her. I really genuinely don’t know if she will come or not. I guess I’ll just say that I don’t hate my grandma. I just kind of feel bad for her. And I think as much as she hopes that I will figure things out and come back to God, I kind of hope that she’ll figure things out.
S1: If you’re interested in hearing more about the legacy of Anita Bryant in the gay activists who fought to stop her, you’ll want to check out an episode we’re releasing tomorrow. It features a conversation between one year’s assistant producer, Madeline Ducharme, and our Slate colleague, Jason Thomas. You’ll also get to hear about the making of our series on 1977 and get a preview of what else we’re covering this season. That episode is exclusively for Slate plus members. Next time on one year, 1977, Jimmy Carter had the most liberal marijuana policies of any president in history, but a Christmas party changed everything.
S3: That whole evening was trouble. It was percolating with trouble. From the moment we all arrived in D.C., you could smell it.
S1: One year is produced by me and Evan Chung with editorial direction by Lowe and Lou and Gabriel Drawn Madeline Ducharme is one year’s assistant producer. You can send us feedback and ideas and memories from 1977 and one year at Slate Dotcom. We’d love to hear from you. Our mix engineer is Merritt Jakov. The artwork for One Year is by Jim Cook. Thank you to Hunter Ohanian and the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Archives, the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts and the University of Miami Special Collections and special thanks to Fred Figes, Brian McKnight, Melody Moorhead, Benjamin Fresh, Jordan Hirsch, Jared Holt, Derek John, Lauren Levin, Alicia Montgomery June. Thomas Shack Hamilton, Chris Motlanthe, Derrick Johnson, Natalie Matthews, Son Park, Katie Raeford, Aisha Solutia, Amber Smith, Seth Brown, Rachel Strahm and Chow too. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back with more from 1977 next week.