Parting Glances: Oranges & lemons sliced

By Charles Alexander

When I was a kid my mother would dose me with castor oil for what she perceived as alimentary crankiness on my part.

This extract of the humble castor bean tastes horrid; its end result, to leave its victim as clean as a penny whistle. (Toot free.) My dosage served as as a warning. Best not to indulge in any constipating shenanigans, if you know what's good for you, young man.

But my mother -- kind heart that she was -- would temper my dosage by mixing it in a glass of OJ -- to no avail. The oil floated in little bubble-up pools, clueing me in that the motor oil from hell was about to be swallowed.

OJ with castor oil is a perfect metaphor for a lest-we-forget harridan from our not-too-distant past: Anita Bryant -- talented vocalist, OJ (seedless variety) role model, Florida-based homophobe, who in 1977 kicked off a massive Save Our Children, Inc. antigay campaign in the Sunshine State. And she had the credentials and the clout.

A Miss America runner-up, a Southern Baptist pew polisher, a gospel and pop singer, she was popular. (Her big hit was the saccharine "Paper Roses.")

She was also a spokespersonality for the Florida Citrus Commission, and nationally televised commercials featured her singing "Come to the Florida Sunshine tree." ("Breakfast without OJ is like a day without sunshine.")

Her TV accounts were Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn, and Tupperware. (She sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the graveside services for Lyndon B. Johnson, and performed the National Anthem at Super Bowl III.)

But Miss Anita was not happy with a gay rights ordinance passed in Dade County, January 1977. She spoke out as a born again Christian mom, launching a campaign six months later for repeal. She used lies and stereotypes. Crooned Anita to the rafters: gay people are wicked, godless, and out to recruit on America's playgrounds.

"As a mother I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children," she preached. "Therefore, they must recruit our children. If gays are granted rights, next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes, people who sleep with St. Bernards, nail biters." [Sound familiar?]

Her campaign of venom and hatred worked. On June 7, 1977, Dade County's anti-discrimination ordinance was rescinded by a margin of 69% to 31%. But Anita and cohorts didn't count on a nationwide gay backlash. Our community quickly became galvanized and cohesive, forging a united front. Unwittingly, Anita did us an important and long-lasting favor.

Since then things haven't gone too well for poor Anita. Gay activists successfully organized a nationwide OJ boycott (some enclosing $2 and asking for a copy of a nonexistent pamphlet linking OJ with homosexuality.) And she got a pie in the face during a TV interview.

The fallout from her political activism destroyed her careers; and her contract with the Florida Citrus Commission was allowed to lapse because of negative publicity generated by Save Our Children, Inc. and the OJ boycott.

Her marriage to Bob Green squeezed out, and in 1980 she dumped him. She married a second husband, Charlie Hobson Dry, in 1990, and they tried to salvage her career in a series of small venues (including one Windsor, Ont. supper club stint). But comeback has been nonexistent, and the Drys have left behind them many unpaid employees and creditors. They filed for bankruptcy twice: Arkansas (1997) and Tennessee (2001). In 2005, Anita, 65 -- all but forgotten -- was parodied on "Will & Grace."

(Screwdrivers, anyone?)

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