This week marks the 35th Anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Gay Activism History!
On October 14, 1977, at press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, while reporters are questioning Anita Bryant about her national crusade against homosexuals, gay rights activist Tom Higgins threw a pie in Bryant’s face, which caused Bryant to comment “At least it was a fruit pie” before praying for Higgins and breaking down in tears.
Bryant an American singer, former beauty queen, and pitchwoman for companies like Coke and Florida Orange Juice started the venomous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign against homosexuals in Dade County, Florida that spread throughout the nation and led to an upswing in violent attacks, including murder, against gays and resulted in numerous cities denying or retracting civil rights ordinances for LGBT’s
In 1977 Bryant said:
“What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before. 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 nail biters.” She also added that “All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God’s continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation.
On June 7, 1977, Bryant’s campaign led to a repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, FL by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. The gay community retaliated against Bryant by organizing a boycott on orange juice. Gay bars all over North America took screwdrivers off their drink menus and replaced them with the “Anita Bryant”, which was made with vodka and apple juice. Sales and proceeds went to gay civil rights activists to help fund their fight against Bryant and her campaign.
Bryant led several more campaigns around the country to repeal local anti-discrimination ordinances including St. Paul, Minnesota; Wichita, Kansas; and Eugene, Oregon. Her success led to an effort to pass the Briggs Initiative in California which would have made pro- or neutral statements regarding homosexuals or homosexuality by any public school employee cause for dismissal. Grass-roots liberal organizations, chiefly in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, sprang up to defeat the initiative.
After the “pieing incident” the Florida orange juice had become more prominent and it was supported by many celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Paul Williams, John Waters, Carroll O’Connor, Mary Tyler Moore and Jane Fonda.
The fallout from the gay community and it’s supporters ruined Bryant. Her contract with the Florida Citrus Commission was allowed to lapse in 1979 because of the controversy, her marriage to her first husband Bob Green failed at that time, and in 1980 she divorced him, citing emotional abusiveness and latent suicidal thoughts. Even the fundamentalist audiences and venues shunned her after her divorce as she was no longer invited to appear at their events and she lost another major source of income. With her four children, Bryant moved from Miami to Selma, Alabama, and later to Atlanta, Georgia where she still lives today.
In June of 2010 smelling the money that the anti-gay groups of today make and pay Bryant returned to her roots and appeared at an anti-gay, anti atheist, and anti muslim event sponsored by “Reclaiming America For Christ”
Lifetime gay activist Thom Higgins passed away on November 10, 1994, in St. Paul, Minnesota.