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social sciences

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Bryant, Anita (b. 1940)  
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Unfortunately, however, there was no large-scale popular mobilization, no door-to-door canvassing, no concerted effort to win over Miami's large Jewish, African-American, and Cuban populations (who might have been made sympathetic to the issue of discrimination). Most damaging of all, no evidence of discrimination against gay men or lesbians was produced, which for many voters rendered the ordinance unnecessary and raised the specter of "special rights."

The Bryant camp, on the other hand, was well-focused, well-organized, and well-financed, especially because it was able to draw on a powerful network of southern churches and religious volunteers.

Sponsor Message.

On June 7, 1977, the ordinance was repealed by a margin of 69% to 31%. Soon after this triumph, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning homosexuals from adopting children.

Bryant then announced a national campaign to save the country from homosexuality. Renaming her organization "Protect America's Children," she led successful campaigns against anti-discrimination ordinances in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon, though her efforts were rejected by voters in Seattle, Washington.

Defeat in California and After

Also in June 1977, California State Senator John V. Briggs, inspired by Bryant's success, sponsored a bill that could have led to the dismissal of any teacher who made a pro-homosexual statement in a public school. When the bill was voted down in the Senate, Briggs organized an initiative petition for a referendum that he thought would propel him into the governorship.

Proposition 6, which qualified for the ballot in November 1978, called for the firing of any school employee who was found to be "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging, or promoting private or public homosexual activity directed at, or likely to come to the attention of, schoolchildren and/or other employees."

This time, the gay movement successfully initiated a grass-roots organization in the large urban areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Its most prominent spokesperson became Harvey Milk, who had been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors the year before. Appropriating Bryant's rhetoric, he exhorted the glbtq community: "I want to recruit you for the fight to preserve democracy from the John Briggs and Anita Bryants who are trying to constitutionalize bigotry."

Bryant had become a rallying cry for gay people. "Anita Bryant is the best thing ever to happen to American homosexuals" was now the slogan. Attendance at gay pride marches swelled, especially in San Francisco. Large anti-Bryant protests were held across the country, and some of Bryant's appearances were picketed, most notably in New Orleans, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta.

Other important opponents (who spoke out with varying degrees of enthusiasm and for a number of reasons) included President Jimmy Carter, former President Gerald Ford, Governor Jerry Brown, former Governor and future President Ronald Reagan, the Log Cabin Republicans, many members of the California Democratic Party, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the California Teachers Association.

On November 7, 1978, the Briggs Initiative was defeated by a two-to-one margin.

(However, the Oklahoma legislature overwhelmingly adopted a law with the same wording as the Briggs Initiative. After much litigation, the Oklahoma law was declared unconstitutional by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 1984, a ruling that was upheld when the U. S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4 to 4 on the issue.)

Vilification of Anita Bryant

In the process of her campaign against gay rights, Bryant became badly injured professionally. An entertainer and advertising spokesperson must above all be perceived as likeable and popular, as indeed Bryant had seemed before undertaking her crusade. However, she soon became better known for her intolerance than for her talent.

Part of her vilification was indeed due to a concerted effort on the part of gay men and lesbians to fight back against her assault on them, though she also happily fueled the fire with inflammatory comments of her own, referring to gay people as "garbage" and worse. Revealing a heretofore unseen coarseness and ugliness to her personality, Bryant in effect engineered her own makeover from beloved "good girl" to self-righteous bigot.

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