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Boycotts have been used with varying degrees of success to attempt to effect changes in the policies of target institutions or corporations. In recent decades glbtq rights advocates have organized a number of such efforts to protest discriminatory practices and policies.

When Charles Cunningham Boycott, a retired British army captain, refused to reduce rents for tenant farmers in County Mayo, Ireland during hard times in 1880, the Irish Land League called for a non-violent protest. The tenants would not communicate with Boycott, who had to bring in workers from Ulster for the harvest. Boycott left Ireland shortly thereafter, but not before his name became synonymous with the practice of refusing to do business with a person or company with whose practices a group disagrees.

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Boycotting antedates the incident in County Mayo and has been used by a wide variety of groups including labor unions, civil rights organizations, and interest groups such as environmentalists. The Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott during the African-American civil rights movement and the California grape boycott on behalf of Chicano farm workers are but two well-known examples from the 1960s and 1970s.

The intent of a boycott is to bring about change in institutional policy, and the means to that end is withholding business.

Florida Orange Juice Boycott

The first glbtq boycott to receive considerable media attention took place in 1977 when Anita Bryant, a pop singer and former Miss Oklahoma then employed as a spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, founded an organization called Save Our Children, which was dedicated not to the welfare of children but to the repeal of a Dade County, Florida ordinance that protected gay men and lesbians from discrimination in employment and housing.

The prospect of a boycott of Florida orange juice, the product Bryant endorsed in advertisements, drew a mixed reaction from people concerned with gay and lesbian rights. Some, lesbians in particular, were reluctant to undertake a campaign that could cost a woman her job when Bryant's actions had been in her role as a private citizen rather than in the course of her work for the Florida Citrus Commission. Others expressed fears that Bryant would be cast as a "holy Christian martyr," concern for farm workers, and doubts about the effectiveness of boycotts as a tactic. Some of these reservations were allayed when the Florida Citrus Commission specifically endorsed Bryant's campaign and announced their support for her.

Momentum for the boycott grew. San Francisco activist Harvey Milk, then a columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, called for support, comparing the action to the Boston Tea Party. The Alameda (California) County Democratic Central Committee encouraged "all Democrats" to take part in the boycott, citing "the Bryant forces' disregard for the separation of church and state." David Goodstein, the publisher of The Advocate, lent both editorial and considerable financial support to the campaign.

Organizations responded. The San Francisco Tavern Guild stopped using Florida orange juice, as did gay bars and restaurants throughout the country. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists unanimously voted "to deny their services and talents to Bryant."

When put to a referendum, Dade County voters repealed the gay rights ordinance by a large majority, dealing a blow to the gay rights movement. Nevertheless, glbtq rights activists found cause for hope. Milk stated that because of Bryant "the entire nation finally opened up and talked about Gay people." Goodstein suggested she deserved a "Gay Unity Award" for bringing people together to fight for their civil rights.

Bryant's status as a controversial figure cost her professionally. Sponsorship offers dwindled, and she saw some eighty entertainment bookings canceled in a year. Both her professional and personal life were in a shambles by 1980, when she divorced--for which she was condemned by many of the same right-wing Christians who had applauded her campaign to abridge glbtq rights--and was fired by the Florida Citrus Commission.

Bryant returned to Oklahoma, remarried, and tried to resurrect her career. By 1997 she and her second husband had numerous liens against them for unpaid taxes and other debts, and they filed for bankruptcy. Their next venture, a theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was also unsuccessful. They filed for bankruptcy again in 2001.

In 1994 the Florida Citrus Commission hired another spokesperson, Rush Limbaugh. Joining glbtq rights groups in denouncing the choice were feminists, African Americans, and the state's governor, Lawton Chiles.

Dade County finally passed a new glbtq rights ordinance in 1998. A repeal effort by conservative Christians in 2002 failed.

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