Gay History

35 Years Ago This Month Anita Bryant Waged War In Dade County, FL – We’ve Not Come A Long Way Baby

As we sit here waiting to see if same sex marriage will become a reality in New York, lets remember that it was 34 years ago this month that Anita Bryant and her “Save The Children Campaign” (Inc.) caused the lesbian and gay citizens of Dade County,Florida to lose their rights and protections in what had to be the first case of putting gay rights up to a vote of the “people”

35 years and how far we have and have not come in such a long period of time.

Bryant, like NOM et al. did everything in her power to crusade against us and still does to this day as she speaks at GOP groups, and Tea Party meetings preaching the same message of hate, because you see hate against us never dies and despite what we hear we can never change everyones “hearts and minds”

In 1997 Bryant, who used many of the talking points and strategy’s that today’s anti-gay hate groups like NOM, FRC and the AFA use, also quoted Leviticus 20:13 and called us “abominations” and waged a “holy war” against us.  In 1977 as today, the Roman Catholic Church stood side by side with Bryant denouncing our rights and dehumanizing us.  And 34 years ago the White House stood against the Bryant and said “there is a guarantee of every person in this nation to be treated with dignity”  just like today as the White stands behind us but does very little make our full equality a reality. 

So in 35 years how much has really changed? 

Only thirteen states plus the District of Columbia (DC) have laws that protect against discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity, and only another seven seven states have laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation but NOT gender identity:  That is less than half the country.  Only 20 states in total., while ENDA  which was introduced in 1994 sits comatose in Congress and only one Representative has ever broached the most obvious alternate path (and smartest) of including LGBT persons into the protections granted minorities and the religious under the Civil Rights Act.

We need to look at the past not only to remember but to learn .  We are all over the map fighting for same sex marriage state by state, and LGBT protections on City and State levels, where it is easier to stop any movement forward because the other side insists on putting civil rights issues up for a vote which is only possible on city and state levels. 

It’s taken 34 years for 20 states to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. ENDA has been bat around for almost 20 years. And it’s taken 14 years for 5 states and the District of Columbia to recognize gay marriage.  You don’t have to be a math genius to realize that we are fighting the wrong way and the long way.

How many more generations of the LGBT community must live and die as second class citizens?  How many generations of bigots will have to wait to die out before our community achieve equality? Where is our sense of urgency, and where is our sense of self respect that we allow ourselves to be abused like this?  Is this really the only road that we want to take.

We need to take a step back and regroup.  We also need to bring this fight fully to the Federal level.  Through the courts.  We can continue fighting state by state as a back up just in case if we lose.  And if we do lose we wait 10 tears and try again through the courts. Because by then even with the state-by-state level and despite the “timelines” you have heard of in the past that are already past due,  we wouldn’t be anywhere near our goal even then.

Let’s look at the past, learn and move forward. 

That’s what history is there for after all.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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1 thought on “35 Years Ago This Month Anita Bryant Waged War In Dade County, FL – We’ve Not Come A Long Way Baby”

  1. Looking back 35 years at the impact that Anita Bryant had on the gay community was withOUT a doubt one of the best thing to happen to our movement… she gave the Gay rights movement, MOVEMENT! She did something that I thought was impossible, she helped to unify almost all the different segments of the gay community! I was living in San Francisco and was a freelance photographer and publicist that specialized in gay clients and businesses. In a span of less then 2 months I was able to get media attention. The first time, when I created the ANITA BRYANT'S HUSBAND IS A HOMO SAPIEN! T-shirt and outed myself nationally, at a time it was not yet fashionable to be openly gay,even in San Francisco via the United Press International wire services. Although I only sold 30 T-shirts, I gave a buck for each of them sold ($5.a shirt)to the coalition fighting her in Dade County Florida. A couple of weeks later, I was able to get get Jane Fonda to wear one at a gay fund raiser and that was picked up by the Associated Press. However, my favorite footnote in Gay history took place on 6/7/77 when she led Dade county Florida voters to rescind a Gay Rights Ordinance. Back in S.F. an impromptu march in response to that election started in the Castro. Harvey Milk showed up with a bullhorn and led the march from the Castro, past City Hall and downtown to Union Square. By the time we reached there, over 5,000 people joined in. Harvey was one of only a few speakers. He warned us if it could happen in Dade County, it could happen elsewhere, including S.F. and told us we have to fight back! I took an photograph of Harvey, a candle in one hand, the bullhorn in the other and a SAVE OUR RIGHTS! sign in the background. When the rally was over, I took my film over to the Associated Press. At first they were not interested. I told them that a local election in Florida could be felt over 1,500 miles away and cause an impromptu march with over 5,000 people was worthy of national news… and they used it. That image introduced Harvey nationally as an openly gay spokesman 5 months before he was elected. It has become iconic over the years. Randy Shilts used it in his book The Mayor of Castro Street. So when you tell the story about Anita Bryant 35 years ago… It reminded me how I got involved. I also gave the moniker "ORANGE TUESDAY" to that event in gay history. I am still active and speak OUT whenever I see injustice toward our gay causes. Thanks for writing about Anita Bryant and the past. Remember then, getting gay stories on the National wire services were rare, and I helped to break those barriers. Today, with the www. it's much easier to fight back. Hope that if your city or town is having a Gay Pride Parade… join in the celebration… it's getting better with each passing day.

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