An exhibit in Fort Lauderdale commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the anti-gay campaign launched by Anita Bryant in Dade County, Florida, which had the unintended consequence of firing up the gay rights movement.
In 1977, singer Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to repeal a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians. 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.”
Likewise, Bryant’s message emboldened gays.
“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.
“Pretty much everything we know about the movement, from what happened during the AIDS crisis to our current political organizations, really have their birth in 1977,” he said.
Bryant, now 67, declined to comment when contacted at her Anita Bryant Ministries International Inc. in Oklahoma City.
Although Dade County re-instated the anti-discrimination clause in 1998 (and it survived a repeal attempt in 2002), one of her campaign’s legal efforts still survives: at her urging the state banned adoptions by gays and lesbians, and that ban still stands today. But in many ways, if it hadn’t had been for her, a lot of us wouldn’t be as outspoken about gay issues, and there wouldn’t be groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Ohio (with which my parents are involved). After all, you don’t fight for something unless someone threatens you, and sometimes backlash is a good thing.
I also think it’s karmically interesting that Ms. Bryant’s career went into the crapper after her campaign. I hope she learned a valuable lesson: don’t mess with the queers, honey; we know how to fight back.
Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.