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social sciences

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Bryant, Anita (b. 1940)  
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In 1977, Des Moines, Iowa gay activist Thom Higgins threw a pie at Bryant. Unperturbed, she quipped "At least it's a fruit pie." This could have been a reference to her involvement in the fruit industry, but "fruit" is also a pejorative term for gay people, and that, no doubt, was her intended reference.

That Bryant intended the pejorative meaning is clear from a May 1978 interview she gave to Playboy (she later complained that she had been led to believe it would appear in Rolling Stone magazine), where she conjectured that homosexuals are called "fruits" because "they eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of life . . . , which is male sperm." (For someone who constantly relied on the Bible for her arguments, Bryant frequently revealed ignorance about what it actually says: here she mixed up the tree of life with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, only the latter of which was off-limits to Adam and Eve. By redundantly referring to "male sperm," she also implied that there is such a thing as female sperm.)

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But perhaps most damagingly for her career, Bryant became an object of ridicule as well as scorn. Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and other comedians constantly mocked her, quickly turning her into a caricature of the prudish, self-righteous church lady.

Bryant claimed that she and her family received death and kidnapping threats, hate mail, bomb scares, and crank phone calls, though she never documented such charges. Despite the absence of documentation of such threats, however, it is clear both that Bryant was under great pressure and that she did not handle that presure very well.

While it was kept from the public at that time, she descended into a severe depression, grew addicted to sleeping pills, and became irrevocably alienated from her husband.

Discovering that Bryant's endorsements had become more of a liability than an asset, her sponsors dropped her. The Singer company not only declined to renew her contract as a spokesperson for the company, but also nixed a planned television show that she was to host for them. The Florida Citrus Commission, which had initially supported her crusade but came to feel acutely the effects of the boycott against Florida orange juice, also declined to renew her contract. In 1978, NBC dropped her from the Orange Bowl parade broadcast. Bryant complained that she was being "blacklisted" for her political views.

In 1980, Bryant, the Bible-quoting born-again Christian, divorced Green, notwithstanding clear Biblical injunctions forbidding divorce. The divorce created controversy and confusion among her supporters in the religious right, many members of which found it difficult to reconcile her divorce with her rhetoric about traditional moral values. (Her husband, who refused to recognize the civil divorce, continued to regard her as his wife "in God's eyes.")

Invitations to speak before conservative religious groups and congregations were cancelled, thus depriving Bryant of much needed income. Since most of her secular bookings had also dried up, the singer found herself in deep financial trouble, and her career in a downward spiral, until it finally became practically nonexistent despite sporadic attempts at comebacks.

Later Developments

After leaving her husband, Bryant moved with her children to Selma, Alabama, and, then, to Atlanta, where she lived until 1990.

In later years, Bryant showed a small measure of contrition for her anti-gay initiatives, though mostly for the toll her crusade took on her career and private life. In an article in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1980, she distanced herself from "Save Our Children." (In 1978, a poll by that journal among junior and senior high school students had named Adolf Hitler and Bryant as the two people "who have done the most damage in the world.")

Bryant stated in the interview: "The answers don't seem quite so simple now. . . . As for the gays, the church needs to be more loving, unconditionally, and willing to see these people as human beings, to minister to them and try to understand. . . . I'm more inclined to say live and let live, just don't flaunt it or try to legalize it."

She also made an attempt to reclaim her career in music. Together with her second husband, nuclear physicist and former astronaut test crewman Charlie Hobson Dry, whom she married in 1990, she performed in small venues in Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. Her plans failed and she filed for bankruptcy at least twice (in 1997 in Arkansas, in 2002 in Tennessee), leaving employees and creditors to whom she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the lurch. Efforts to set up an Anita Bryant Museum fell through as well.

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