Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The 70s: Assassination

Anita Bryant
As the decade drew to a close several events worked against the progress gay activists had made. In 1977 Florida Beauty Queen Anita Bryant made it her duty to fight against a Dade County nondiscrimination bill protecting homosexuals. Bryant was a devoted member of the Northwest Baptist Church and felt that the new law "condones immorality and discriminates against my children's rights to grow up in a healthy, decent community." A group of like-minded political and religious leaders worked with Mrs. Bryant to form Save Our Children, Inc., an organization that slandered the name of homosexuals. Save Our Children used slogans and petitions to imply homosexuals were amoral and child molesters. Bryant soon published a book explaining her ideas titled "The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation's Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality. Bryant's tactics were effective, and soon pro-LGBT laws were struck down and the gay rights movement took two steps back.

Anita Bryant and Save Our Children represented the first organized enemy to the gay rights movement. However, despite Save Our Children's progress their efforts rattled the gay community to action. The pride parades of 1977 saw record numbers of participants-- with 250,000 marching in San Francisco alone.  Gays and lesbians also retaliated by boycotting Florida orange juice. 

Similar to Anita Bryant, senator John Briggs put together a referendum on whether homosexuals could teach in public schools. Briggs stated, "Homosexuals want your children. They don't have any children of their own. If they don't recruit children or very young people, they'd all die away. They have no means of replenishing. That's why they want to be teachers." Fortunately, the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6, was defeated in November 1978. Meanwhile in Seattle a group named Save Our Moral Ethics Bryant-like attempt to repeal the city's gay rights laws was shot down. 

Harvey Milk
In November of 1978 gay city supervisor Harvey Milk found himself working along-side San Francisco resident and conservative Dan White. Ten days after White resigned his position he asked Mayor George Moscone to reinstate him. White's political enemies blocked the reappointment, and on a Monday morning in late November Dan White snuck into City Hall and shot both Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk dead.

The ensuing trial for Dan White was a joke: the jury selection was questionable, the prosecution did a poor job, and the defense argued that White's antisocial behavior was caused by eating lots of junk food. White was sentenced to a light seven years and eight months hard time. That night, May 21st, 197, thousands of angry protesters converged on City Hall and trashed a dozen police cars. The police struck back, thus hospitalizing sixty-one police officers and one hundred gays. This occurrence would come to be known as the "White Night Riots."

Both Anita Bryant and White's unjust behavior didn't last long. Bryant faced constant harassment from gay rights protesters, stopped receiving invitations to perform, and the Florida Citrus Commission decided that she was too controversial to keep on. Bryant eventually filed for bankruptcy. White got out of prison in 1985, however he was unable to find work and committed suicide within a year. In White's wake Harvey Milk's death had become a rallying symbol for the gay rights movement. In 1979 activists held the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, drawing one hundred thousand participants. Randy Shilts published a biography of the "Mayor of Castro Street" in 1982, and in 1984 the documentary film The Life and Times of Harvey Milk won an academy award.


  1. You're doing a great job with these posts-- very clear, interesting highlights of the history! Let me make one, important, request: would you be sure to give sources/further reading so your readers will know where else to find more information? Looking good--


  2. Sounds great, I'll be sure to include sources/further reading with all future posts