Anita Bryant took her place behind the microphone, seated next to her husband before a throng of reporters. In 1969, she had become the spokeswoman for the orange-juice industry and, by some opportunistic posturing, the public face for the anti-gay religious right in America. She and her entourage had come to Des Moines, Iowa, after a successful campaign to repeal the Dade County ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was June 7, 1977.
Bryant, former beauty queen and pop star, had ascended to become the voice of decent God-fearing folks everywhere, and she was leading the charge against homosexuals and their wicked ways with the "Save Our Children" campaign.
"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," she warned.
"As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children," she said, adding, "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."
Decades later, these words still conjure the specter of the sexually depraved homosexual agenda and the never-ending threat to American life and families. There is, as the Bible tells us, nothing new under the sun.
The hours of sound bites and transcripts from hearings in state after state since the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 were struck down in June 2013 prove the anti-LGBTQ proponents have no new or legitimate arguments—only fear mongering and intentionally false statements about who we are and how we love.
In footage now on YouTube, Bryant spoke with pride about quelling the perceived tidal wave of gay rights across our nation. Her face practically radiated that Florida sunshine she peddled for America's citrus lobby, and it's easy to see why she was the face that America trusted—even loved. A face that, in one second, was smug in the knowledge that she was leading the charge and winning, and the next second struck silent when a gay man made his way through the crowd and delivered a pie to her face with the accuracy of a sidewinder missile. There were audible gasps as she picked away pie crust and meringue, then quipping, "At least it's a fruit pie!"—a comment that whispered of stereotypes of gay men everywhere.
In the aftermath, the gay community led a national boycott of orange juice, endorsed by celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Mary Tyler Moore, proving to Florida's citrus growers that the gay community had financial clout. By 1979, Anita's contract as spokesperson was allowed to run out.
Eventually, bankrupted and divorced and having lost her national appeal due to the political controversy, she was quoted: "I'm more inclined to say live and let live; just don't flaunt it or try to legalize it."
Now, with marriage equality poised to become the law of the land when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the cases coming out of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, many of us have begun to raise awareness of the dangers of being a member of the LGBTQ community. In the days after couples across our nation could marry, they could also be fired as soon as they return from their honeymoons. Lawmakers and judges might be forced to accept same-sex marriage as the new status quo, but everyday folks that employ us can still conduct business as usual in a majority of states.
When Starkville passed an ordinance proclaiming the value of every citizen, including those from the LGBTQ community, many saw it as an opportunity to continue the push for full equality—a toe in the door, if you will.
A year later, in closed-door meetings, the Starkville Board of Aldermen voted to repeal the proclamation—an act of bull-headed defiance to a symbolic gesture of inclusion. But nobody flung pies on that day in Starkville, regrettably.
Many conservatives want to limit or completely roll back any and all protections for the LGBTQ community in the face of impending marriage equality, as we've seen recently in Arkansas, where the Legislature last week passed a state law to ban any of its towns from prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ citizens.
Not unlike Anita Bryant back in the 1970s, today's conservatives are using antiquated ideology about the LGBTQ community, the way we love and our ability to parent. Unlike Anita Bryant, scores of celebrities and sports figures are coming out as LGBTQ individuals or simply in support of full equality under the law. These days, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a mainstream pop-culture figure willing to propagate the hateful rhetoric used in the past. It seems to me that the last frontier for vocal support of full rights and protections is for the everyday folks to speak up.
Over the weekend, Justin and I watched a documentary titled "For The Bible Tells Me So." The film follows different families as they face the coming-out process of family members. From the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, to former U.S. House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt's loving inclusion of his lesbian daughter, the documentary shows what happens when the people we love stand up for us, fight for us, thus teaching the world that God's love—and ours—is and should be unconditional.
I was especially touched by the mother whose lesbian daughter committed suicide before the pair could reconcile and by the 19-year-old who came out in high school, inspiring his parents to exhaust every avenue to understand the struggle of LGBTQ individuals and to become vocal advocates for change.
Evangelical conservatives like Bryan Fischer and Anita Bryant who, along with scores of others, are working to marginalize my community, deserve to hear from our friends and family who love and embrace us and our struggles—if not through a pie in the face.
These people may believe they are right in their words and actions, but the reality is they're splitting families apart.
If you care about and truly love your neighbor, the time is now for you to stand up and let your voices be heard. There are too many of these fear agents at work today, and let's face it, there's not enough pie in the world for all of the smug faces still pushing hateful rhetoric.
Eddie Outlaw is co-owner of the William Wallace Salon in Fondren, and spends most of his time trying not to embarrass his sweet Delta mother on eddieoutlaw.com.