restricted access Epilogue: Anita Bryant and Florida’s Culture Wars
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Epilogue Anita Bryant and Florida’s Culture Wars I have just been notified that the blacklisting of Anita Bryant has begun. I have been blacklisted for exercising the right of a mother to defend her children and all children, against their being recruited by homosexuals. Anita Bryant, 1977 “We’re not going to take this sitting down,” Anita Bryant told the New York Times on January 18, 1977. Florida’s Dade County Commission had just approved an ordinance banning discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of “sexual or affectional preference.”1 Bryant had moved to Miami Beach in 1960 after marrying Bob Green, a local disc jockey. It was the same year the Johns Committee and Duane Barker’s unit were investigating male prostitution and pornography rings in Miami. In addition to performing and recording both popular and inspirational Christian music , Anita Bryant began serving as a spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission in 1968, appearing in television and print advertisements for Florida orange juice. The tagline, “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine,” became her catchphrase, synonymous with the former Miss Oklahoma in the popular culture of the day.2 She became involved in civic affairs in 1969, when Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors and a Florida native, was arrested and charged with indecent exposure and public drunkenness during a performance at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. Three weeks later, an estimated thirty thousand people packed Miami’s Orange Bowl for a “Rally for Decency.” Conceived by a local high school senior in response to Morrison’s performance , the event featured Anita Bryant, the veteran comic actor Jackie Gleason, and 1940s radio star Kate Smith, most famous for her rendition of “God Bless America.” A series of teenage speakers also addressed the 194 · Communists and Perverts under the Palms crowd on what they called the “five virtues”: belief in God, love of country, love of family, “reverence of one’s sexuality,” and equality.3 In early 1977, within weeks of the county commission vote, Anita Bryant and her husband Bob Green joined Coral Gables city councilman Robert Brake and several local religious leaders to form Save Our Children to repeal the ordinance. The group asked the commission to simply void it, to no avail. Instead, the county’s voters would decide the issue in a special election on June 7.4 With that, Florida found itself at the epicenter of a national debate pitting gay rights advocates against those who rejected the very concept of acknowledging, much less protecting, homosexuals as a minority group. And Anita Bryant found herself thrust into the spotlight as the cover girl for a newly assertive evangelical Christian influence in Republican politics, an influence that would flourish in subsequent decades. Even as the anti-ordinance campaign helped to usher in a new era of religiously based, family values conservatism, it echoed earlier calls for protecting children, families, and schools from liberal intrusions and predatory homosexuals, and it politicized parents’ right to do the same. It was a reframing of older notions of subversion and sexual deviance through religiously informed critiques of liberalism, and in particular liberal schools’ imposing toxic secular values on America’s children with the blessing of the Supreme Court. At the same time, as well, decades of opposition to what was perceived as overreaching federal power continued to ring loud and reverberate within the Christian Right. Sociologist Sara Diamond has written that the “major social issues of the 1970s caused right-wing evangelicals to feel threatened about their ability to promote the supremacy of the traditional family.”5 To be sure, gay liberation, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the legalization of abortion can be credited with stirring up fears about traditional values, but the mobilization of conservatives around the issues of homosexual teachers and gay rights was not solely reactive. It had deeper roots, which lay in anti-Communist politics and, in Florida and the rest of the South, massive resistance. The wheels of mobilization in the 1970s had been greased by an earlier generation of cold warriors and segregationists consumed by anxieties about liberalism, sexuality, the federal government, and public schools—and the role each potentially played in precipitating or preventing the nation’s moral decline. A worldview, a vocabulary, and a recent historical memory were all firmly in place, and the Dade County Epilogue: Anita Bryant and Florida’s Culture Wars · 195 ordinance became the issue around which a movement...


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Subject Headings

  • Florida. Legislature. Legislative Investigation Committee.
  • Florida -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Culture conflict -- Florida -- History.
  • Communism -- Florida -- History.
  • Homosexuality -- Florida -- History.
  • Civil rights -- Florida -- History.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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