Anita Bryant: The Catalyst
The Christian Right
In the late 1970s, conservative political voices began to push against what they saw as an unraveling of America’s moral fiber, arising from liberal political gains in the 1960s. Eventually, this conservative push grew into the Moral Majority movement of the 1980s as the Christian Right increased in size and visibility. This movement argued that a literal translation of the Bible forbid gay sex and relationships. They also viewed gays and lesbians as a damaging influence on society and as a threat to children. One spokesperson of the movement was Anita Bryant.
“Rally for Decency”
Anita Bryant campaigned against LGBT+ rights in Florida in an effort to repeal extensions of non-discrimination laws in Dade County, Florida. Bryant was a well-known singer and beauty- pageant winner. Because of her anti-LGBT+ campaigning, Bryant became a national figure and public speaker for the Christian Right. She spoke at rallies to oppose LGBT+ supportive legislation across the nation. In 1977, Bryant wrote “Dear friend: I don’t hate the homosexuals! But as a mother, I must protect my children from their evil influence.” On October 7, 1977, Bryant came to the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis for the “Right to Decency” rally in favor of a bill proposed by Representative Donald Boys in the Indiana General Assembly. The bill would have criminalized sodomy and was a component of Boys’ wider socially conservative political agenda. According to a report of the rally published in November of 1977 by the Gay People's Union GPU Reports, Bryant didn't actually speak at the Indianapolis rally; instead, she sang. The rally was a major catalyst for the organization of the LGBT+ community in Indianapolis.
In the words of Executive Director of the Indiana Youth Group, Mary Byrne, who was at the Coliseum that night: “Anita Bryant was probably the best thing that happened to the gay community.” Hundreds of protestors stood outside in the rain at the first gay rights rally in Indianapolis. Groups including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the forerunners of Pride Indy came together under banners protesting inequality and injustice as a reaction to Bryant’s speech and ideology. As a result of the rally, LGBT+ groups had a newly established voice and media recognition.