Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Miami-Dade Ja Vu: A Quarter Century after Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" Campaign, Miami-Dade Voters Are Again Squaring off over Gay Rights. (Politics)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Miami-Dade Ja Vu: A Quarter Century after Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" Campaign, Miami-Dade Voters Are Again Squaring off over Gay Rights. (Politics)

Article excerpt

The year was 1977, the place South Florida's Dade County. The world's attention was focused on gay rights, with singer and orange juice pitch-woman Anita Bryant leading a bizarre "Save Our Children" crusade to overturn a law protecting gay men and lesbians against discrimination. And when voters overwhelmingly repealed the ordinance, Bryant danced a jig, and her husband, Bob Green, kissed her for photographers. "This is what heterosexuals do, fellas," Green said.

The defeat was a watershed, galvanizing the gay rights movement nationally to organize for future battles while convincing far-right activists that they could raise money and gain power by fighting gay rights. It wasn't until 1998 that commissioners of what is now Miami-Dade County reinstated the antidiscrimination protections. Now, 25 years after Bryant led her antigay crusaders to victory, the religious right has again forced a referendum in the hope of repealing the county's ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit and finance.

With the vote looming on September 10, both sides face a very different political and demographic landscape this time around. Unlike in 1977, gay people now have overwhelming support from the political, business, and entertainment establishments. And Bryant, 62, whose postelection career disintegrated after gays picketed her appearances and boycotted Florida orange juice, won't be a factor this time around. "She's had enough of that; she wants to live her life," says Green, now her ex-husband, who lives in Miami Beach. "My opinion is that [repeal is] not going to win. Times have changed, and people ... have become desensitized [to gays]. Every other [TV] show has gay characters, and people just get used to it."

Nevertheless, leaders of No to Discrimination--SAVE Dade, the group organizing the campaign against the repeal, caution that the outcome remains very uncertain, even though their polling shows a majority backing the county law. "Our support was not a landslide by any means," says executive director Timothy Higdon, "but when you really present the issue as discrimination, people see that. Also, people are very proud of living in a world-class [metropolis] where discrimination's not tolerated. So those are the core messages we're hammering on."

The big question, Higdon says, is whether supporters can be mobilized to vote in a typically low-turnout election in which primaries are the only other draw. "Our opposition is complacency," he says, adding that the organization is focusing on identifying 90,000 voters against discrimination and making sure they get to the polls. A loss, he says, would have national implications.

"This [election] is going to be a real measure of the cohesiveness and organization of the progressive community versus the ability of the Christian right," Higdon says. "If they're able to defeat us here, you're going to see a huge inflow of money back into the Christian Coalition."

No to Discrimination is seeking to raise $1.4 million, but fund-raising is going slowly, says campaign cochair Heddy Pena. One fear, she says, is that the pro-repeal group, Take Back Miami-Dade County, an adjunct of the Christian Coalition, will unleash an advertising blitz just before the election that No to Discrimination will be unable to counter. Acknowledging the symbolic and possibly practical nationwide impact of a defeat, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is donating $50,000 and sending most of its staff to Miami during the campaign's final three weeks, says executive director Lorri Jean. …

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