Homosexual militants are tormenting foe Anita Bryant
She has received death threatsand been socked in the face with a banana cream pie. When she showed up in Manhattan to tape an appearance for the Today show, NBC was so worried for her safety that guards spirited her out of the building after the performance. She called off a press conference at the nearby Hilton Hotel because of warnings that hostile demonstrators would be in the streets. Appearing in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week, she had to change hotels for security reasons. The victim is Singer Anita Bryant, 37; her tormentors are radical gay activists, mostly male; and their fight, a bitter one from the beginning, has taken an ugly turn.
The feud began when Bryant led the crusade that last June caused the repeal of an ordinance in Miami's Dade County banning discrimination against homosexuals in housing, employment and public accommodations. Since her victory, gay rightists have used Bryant as the symbol of what they must overcome in order to gain the full rights that are still denied them. Since Bryant promotes orange juice for the Florida Citrus Commission, some gays have been trying to persuade consumers to stop buying the product. The boycott has had only limited success nationally. While sales of orange juice are off about 10% from last fall, growers attribute this to higher prices, resulting from damages to the crop during last winter's severe cold spell. So far, the commission has received some 85,000 letters about Bryant, backing her 3 to 1. This week the commission will meet in Lakeland, Fla., to decide whether or not to extend her contract as its $100,000-a-year sunshine spokeswoman.
Beyond that, Bryant's agent and husband Bob Green says, her take from show business has dropped by 70% since the Dade County election. That is difficult to confirm, as is Bryant's charge that "conventions have been totally inhibited from booking us." Bryant still performs around the country, singing and speaking at conventions, church meetings and conservative get-togethers. Sometimes she seems to be benefiting from the furor. When she was picketed in St. Petersburg last week, lagging ticket sales perked up; she played to a full house of 2,000, and 200 people were turned away. She acknowledges that the fight has hyped sales of her eighth book, The Anita Bryant Story, in which she stresses, in evangelical terms, her personal relationship with God. She also writes: "I don't hate homosexuals. I pray for them."
Bryant claims that the homosexuals have pressured the networks into blacklisting her from talk showsan unlikely charge, which the networks deny. She did, after all, appear on the Today show. Here and there, notably in the gay rights stronghold of California, campaigns have been attempted to keep her off the air. Though some religious stations in Texas have received increasing numbers of calls to let her sing out, no record company has bought the recent single that she recorded on her own. Its title: There's Nothing Like the Love Between a Woman and a Man.
"We just want to get back to leading normal lives," says Green. "This is no fun and games." The gays, he contends, "are haunting us wherever we go. They won't let her alone." Adds Anita: "I'm not intimidated by what they do. They are making fools of themselves."