41 years ago today, gay rights activist Tom Higgins threw a pie in Anita Bryant’s face.
The iconic moment in gay history happened on October 14, 1977, when Bryant held a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, to update reporters on her national crusade against homosexuals.
“At least it was a fruit pie,” Bryant responded before praying for Higgins and breaking down in tears.
Bryant, a well-known American singer, former beauty queen, and pitch-woman for companies like Coke and Florida Orange Juice, was perhaps best known for her role as the leader of ‘Save Our Children’ campaign against homosexuals in Dade County, Florida. Her political coalition sought to overturn a Dade County (now called Miami-Dade County) ordinance that prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. Her movement resulted in numerous cities denying or retracting civil rights ordinances for LGBT people.
“What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life” Bryant said in 1977.
“I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before. As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children” and “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.”
“All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God’s continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation,” she added.
On June 7, 1977, Bryant’s campaign led to a repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, FL by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. The gay community retaliated against Bryant by organizing a boycott on orange juice. Gay bars all over North America took screwdrivers off their drink menus and replaced them with the “Anita Bryant”, which was made with vodka and apple juice. Sales and proceeds went to gay civil rights activists to help fund their fight against Bryant and her campaign.
Bryant led several more campaigns around the country to repeal local anti-discrimination ordinances including St. Paul, Minnesota; Wichita, Kansas; and Eugene, Oregon. Her success led to an effort to pass the Briggs Initiative in California which would have made pro- or neutral statements regarding homosexuals or homosexuality by any public school employee cause for dismissal. Grass-roots liberal organizations, chiefly in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, sprang up to defeat the initiative.
After the “pieing incident” the Florida orange juice had become more prominent and it was supported by many celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Paul Williams, John Waters, Carroll O’Connor, Mary Tyler Moore and Jane Fonda. The fallout from the gay community and it’s supporters ruined Bryant. Her contract with the Florida Citrus Commission was allowed to lapse in 1979 because of the controversy, her marriage to her first husband Bob Green failed at that time, and in 1980 she divorced him, citing emotional abusiveness and latent suicidal thoughts. Even the fundamentalist audiences and venues shunned her after her divorce as she was no longer invited to appear at their events and she lost another major source of income. With her four children, Bryant moved from Miami to Selma, Alabama, and later to Atlanta, Georgia where she still lives today.
Bryant is still active today running Anita Bryant Ministries International.
Watch the Higgins Pie Bryant, below:
“The Day It Snowed In Miami” (2014) is an Emmy-winning documentary that traces the political activism behind an equal-rights statute in Miami, and how it galvanized the gay rights movement in Florida and beyond. Watch below: