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.