Today marks one of the most iconic moments in gay history when a gay male activist threw a pie in the face of one of the most evil homophobes in America, Anita Bryant.
On October 14, 1977, at press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, while reporters were questioning 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 pitch-woman for companies like Coke and Florida Orange Juice started the venomous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign against homosexuals in Dade County, Florida which spread throughout the nation and led to an upswing in violent attacks, including murder, against gay men and resulted in numerous cities denying or retracting gay and lesbian civil rights ordinances
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 of Florida orange juice which she was a spokeswoman for. 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 and organizations 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 thanks to Harvey Milk, sprang up to defeat the initiative.
After the “pieing incident” the Florida orange juice boycott 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 of the anti-LGBT groups of today Bryant returned to her roots and appeared at an anti-gay, anti atheist, and anti Muslim event sponsored by “Reclaiming America For Christ”
The unsung hero who threw the infamous pie, lifetime gay activist Thom Higgins was a founding member and officer of several gay organizations, including FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic
Expression), The Gay Imperative, and the Church of the Chosen People, a gay pagan religion established in 1975. He was also a member of Target City Coalition and the Cuban Refugee Task Force of Positively Gay.
Thom Higgins passed away November 10, 1994, in St. Paul, Minnesota.