Orange Juice, Anita Bryant And The Queer Revolution


You owe it to yourself to take some time out of your day and learn about the dark, weird, juicy backstory of Anita Bryant. History-minded queers probably already know the broad strokes: she was a model and singer of some kind, and eventually an orange juice spokesmodel, and then an anti-gay activist at a time when you could still do that sort of thing.

Today, she’s a punch line — but a poetic article on Extra Crispy dives deep into her strange life.

Anita rose to fame in the 60s, first as a good-but-not-great pop singer and then as the voice of Florida’s Citrus Commission. She seemed wholesome and nice, just the sort of thing you’d want associated with a breakfast drink. There was a bit of an orange juice craze in those days — like milk during the depression, people thought of it as a sort of superbeverage crammed with important nutrition.

At the same time, LGBTs were demanding rights and equality; and for a few moments it seemed like we might actually be successful. There wasn’t much organized resistance to gay liberation in the 1970s, so when queers and allies got a little political power they were able to enact some protections. (This is why gay couples were able to marry, briefly, in the 1970s.)

But even though America didn’t have an anti-gay infrastructure yet, it did have a prevailing cultural prejudice, and it didn’t take much effort to whip citizens up into a panic about perverts. Anita Bryant capitalized on the ignorance of the time, attacking LGBTs as sick and dangerous. That touched off a massive gay boycott of orange juice. One one side you had civil rights activists of the time, including Harvey Milk; on the other, you had figures like Anita and Jerry Falwell (whose disgusting son just endorsed Donald Trump.)

The whole thing may have backfired, though. Anita gave the gay community an opportunity to speak up and fight back, and a population that used to be quiet and avoidant became electrified with new activism.

Anita’s still alive, though she’s never apologized or expressed regret. Reflecting back on the impact she’s had and her lingering, now-funny legacy, it must be hard not to feel like a waste of a life.

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  • Brian

    Anita Bryant attacked male homosexual desire, not the GLBT community. Big difference.

    I suspect she was one of these women who feared the idea that men could choose to be with men instead of women. Women fear a man’s ability to choose because she knows she has no control over it.

  • Ron Jackson

    Bryant was, and still is a tool for the religious nut jobs and their anti-gay agenda. She deserves her infamy.

  • Bauhaus

    Stop lying. Save The Children – virulently anti-gay and based on lies.

  • Creamsicle

    I actually didn’t learn about Bryant until I stumbled across an old episode if Harold and Maude where a gay bar opens in town. I didn’t understand the joke when he tried to order orange juice. Then a few years later I finally got around to seeing Milk, and I began to appreciate just how important she was as the face of anti-gay bigotry.

  • mcflyer54

    Bryant’s initial attention was not as mediocre singer (although that’s what she was). Anita was Miss Oklahoma 1958 and second runner up in the 1959 Miss America Pageant. She made a number of TV variety show appearance and recorded for Columbia (now Sony) records in the 60s, scoring some bottom rung hits (although “Paper Roses” did make the top 10) before becoming the spokesperson for the Florida Orange Growers Association. She toured for several years with Bob Hope doing USO shows during Viet Nam.

  • jamesnimmo

    About five years ago she was living with her second husband in Edmond, Oklahoma, a bedroom suburb north of Oklahoma City.

  • peacefulruffneck

    Her “Save Our Children” organization was the first to blatantly oppose laws that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. G or L or B or T all have to do with sexual orientation so how anyone could claim she “attacked the homosexual desire” is delusional.

    Later in life she divorced her husband, declared bankruptcy, accumulated huge unpaid tax debt and left a string of employees and creditors to hang out to dry due to failed business ventures. A real pillar of a “fine Christian” and a “model of morality” she was and now she lives in obscurity in some small town in Oklahoma (how appropriate) waiting for her own judgement day date with the Lord.

    I guess the most Christian thing to do at this point is go pray for her withering, rotten hate filled soul.

  • kookookachoo

    I’m convinced that when my friends Tom and Patrick drove down to Iowa and threw a pie in her face, that was the beginning of the end for “Save Our Children” and her career (which was not much in the first place). The Florida orange juice boycott was very effective, it scared the piss out of the industry. Those were heady days for us, I was a very militant gay activist. My militancy has faded a bit over these decades and the AIDS Crisis really took the winds out of our sails as well. We got tired. Thank goodness for the influx of more youthful activists over these many years!

  • Brian

    Honestly, some of you are so non-intellectual. Did you ever go to school? Do you ever think clearly before posting? Here’s some advice: stop for a few minutes before spouting on things you know nothing about. Let me educate you on a few things.

    Anita Bryant mentioned the word “homosexual” in her crusades. I don’t believe she ever mentioned “GLBT” or even “gay”. Therefore, you need to stop projecting the alphabet soup (GLBT) of modern, made-up identity politics onto events that happened 30 or 40 years ago.

    There, did you understand even that? Or do you need me to repeat it?

    Let me educate you on another thing: Anita Bryant’s crusade was particularly aimed at males and male-male sexuality. I don’t think she ever said anything against female-female sexuality or “lesbians”. I could be wrong on these points but that was my distinct interpretation at the time.

    Anita struck me as one of these feminist-Christian types that evolved out of the 1970’s as feminism met with Christianity. In many cases, this meeting produced a general anti-male mindset, a mindset that we still see today among liberals, and which puts male homosexuality at a distinct disadvantage compared with all other sexualities.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    @Brian: Well, I remember one of her obsessions about male homosexuality, she was horrified that “homosexuals eat life!” (i.e. CUM… some of us swallow cum!) so I guess she wasn’t into giving bj’s. LOL.

    It IS a little odd that Queerty would refer to Anita Bryant as anti-“LGBT” in the modern fashion. Yeah, that is historically incorrect. Her obsession was MALE homosexuality.

    People in the ’70s thought there was exactly one “T” (Christine Jorgensen) in the entire world. And they weren’t sure that lesbians or bisexuals really existed. (Hey, a lot of gay men even today don’t think male bisexuals exist!)

  • Brian

    Thank you for reinforcing the point I was trying to make. I think there are too many gay-identifying men today who think they’re smart. They project modern-day identity politics onto the past, thus distorting the truth and distorting reality.

    My point is constant and consistent: much of what we call homophobia today stems from anti-male attitudes as it is always the male who is most oppressed for his sexuality.

  • Bauhaus

    Your mendacity is constant and consistent, that’s for sure.

  • Dave Downunder

    Why is Queerty dragging up this hateful old cow again? The next time I hear anything about her I want it to be an obituary.

  • SFHandyman

    I’m sure many dozens of gay men lost their teaching positions. She probably scared many more from even trying to do any profession where they worked with children. She was vile.

    Brian is right. Her focus was only on gay men.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    And in the ’70s, “gay” was not a word that heterosexuals used, yet. Gay was what gay men called ourselves. It still had a slangy aspect to it. “Gay” wasn’t mainstream yet. For example, the New York Times refused to use the word “gay” until 1987. We were always “homosexuals” in the NYT up to that point. Hard to believe now.

    (Also, for what it’s worth, “queer” was definitely NOT yet “reclaimed” in those days; it was considered a vile epithet. So if Queerty – lol – were to suddenly refer to the “LGBTQ” community of say 1978, that would be quite weird!)

    @Bauhaus: Seems that Brian is a bit obsessed with the terminology, and I’m not sure it’s THAT important, but he is not incorrect on this point.

  • He BGB

    I think most bigots are more anti MALE gay people than any other. It’s this fear of seeing a man be womanly and thus “weak”. Like a man in a dress is funny (or scary) but a woman in a man’s suit is cool and chic and let’s all be like her. AIDS gave bigots an even bigger excuse to fear and HATE gay men. Anyway, thank you for posting the pie in the face. One of my great memories in life. A literal LOL. One of those laughs where you are laughing and screaming at the same time with glee. There aren’t many of those in life. The goodie Two shoes celebrities always are Republican like this bitch and Shirley Temple and others (the men are usually hypocrites and put on a good front but are real sluts behind the scenes like John Wayne).

  • He BGB

    Thank you Queerty for this article. Please publish more LGBT history. Young LGBT need to know and old LGBT enjoy reading it too. Diamond Lil recently died in Atlanta. As a child in the 40s and 50s he would dance and entertain the sailors in Savanah GA. Then did drag shows in Atlanta later years, appearing at the University of Georgia where they tried to run her out of town but the show went on. Also trying to start a pro gay activist group there. She died at 80 years old a few days ago.

  • maxlovesrio

    Not only was she working around the country to fight anti-discrimination laws against gays, but worked for laws forbidding gay adoption and for laws requiring that gay teachers be fired because “since the gays can’t reproduce, they have to recruit our children”

    Much of her income was from appearing and singing at large Christian events, but along with the orange juice boycott, protests were held at every event that she performed at, so churches and other organizations stopped booking her because they didn’t want demonstrations ruining their events so her income took a nosedive between no more paid events and being dropped from making commercials for the Florida Citrus Commission.

    I remember at the time that busloads of gay protesters would bus in to wherever she was going to appear at an event to protest. At first, the events had many gay people in the audience who would wait until she was introduced to start their demonstration. Later, the events looked for gay people to keep them out so a gay man and lesbian would walk in together. Finally, some events issued tickets at local churches to keep out the protesters, but there were still loud protest outside. It was just too much for her to continue doing these big events. I remember it as a time of growing gay pride and unification to fight for our rights.

  • Brian

    Bryant was very active against male homosexuality. She sensed its power. She may have even feared its presence in the man or men she loved.

    Women can be very anti-male homosexual desire if it exists in the men they date.

  • Barkusjones

    Heywood Jablowme – “gay” was not used by the heteros in the 70s?? Then my junior high school in 1972 was years ahead of its time. “gay boy” etc rang through the halls over and over and over again and got painted on my locker. Maybe you meant not used by the hetero press. Even there I think you’re mistaken. The term “gay” was used all over the hetero landscape in the 1970s. On Maude and All in the Family on early 70s CBS. I think you meant the 60s.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    @Barkusjones: Okay.

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