By Kaitlyn Gammon
Prior to 1977, Anita Bryant was primarily known as a prominent Christian singer and as the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, which gave her the job of starring in ads marketing orange juice. When Dade County, Florida passed an ordinance prohibiting job and housing discrimination against gay people on the basis of sexual orientation in 1977, Bryant created the “Save Our Children” campaign, moving her political ambitions from orange juice marketing to the marketing of homophobia. The organization, which was initially started to repeal the ordinance in Dade County, transformed into a crusade that sought to repeal similar laws and ordinances throughout the nation. It served as the first evidence of organized public backlash against the gay rights movement that had started nearly a decade prior, and Bryant became for gay activists a symbol of the societal hatred and bigotry aimed at them solely because they wanted to exist in the public sphere without fear of violence or discrimination.
On June 8th, 1977, the same day that the Dade County ordinance was overturned, Anita appeared here, at the Norfolk Scope, to give a concert that was primarily advertising to continue the work of “Save Our Children.” Hundreds of activists and protestors crowded the Scope during her event, gaining national news attention and showing the strength of the gay community in its unwillingness to allow themselves to be pushed around. This event spurred nationwide backlash and mobilization against Bryant and other organized fundamentalists, and led to the heavy organization of gay rights groups that helped secure greater rights for queer people over the following decades. Anita Bryant is now publically infamous for the depths of hatred and bigotry she showed gay people in the initial backlash against gay rights in America, while the same activists she sought to strip rights from continue to lead the call for concrete queer rights in our country, having over the following decades gained victories in queer rights legislation. The Scope protest marked the first time that “the gay community came together in Norfolk,” and created an atmosphere where the queer residents of a relatively small southern city felt like they didn’t have to hide anymore.