Houston LGBT History: Ray Hill Talks about Anita Bryant
36 Years Ago on June 16, 2013
What role did Houston play in the protests against Anita Bryant, and what were the local and national impacts? You’re about to find out.
In January of 1977 Dade County Florida…that’s the county that includes Miami…passed an ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That set off a firestorm and led to the founding of the organization Save Our Children, with Anita Bryant as leader. They very quickly got enough signatures to call for a referendum to overturn the ordinance, with the vote scheduled for June 7th.
By the time the election was set it only left about two months for the gay community to mount its own campaign. The short time period was just one of the huge obstacles, as they were no match for the highly motivated Christian fundamentalists, who trotted out all the now very tired tirades that homosexuality is immoral and homosexuals want to recruit children. The ordinance was overturned by a two to one margin.
The next day a rally was planned in Norfolk, Virginia, to protest Bryant appearing there, and it was the first successful show of strength. The gay community there had organized well, and planted people inside the auditorium where she was performing. At a particular point they stood up and chanted and stamped their feet and Bryant broke into tears. The national media was ready and picked up and ran with this story. The seeds of gay activism were sown and Houston was next, as Bryant was scheduled to speak before the Texas Bar Association a week later. And Houston was also ready, and the planning and strategy was fascinating.
In an interview with JD Doyle, for the radio show Queer Music Heritage, Houston activist Ray Hill tells about the city’s role in protesting the Bryant bigotry, and at the same time lighting the spark of the LGBT movement in Houston, which quickly spread to other cities.
In the final quote of the piece Hill sums it up: “I don’t think Annise Parker would be mayor of Houston now, if Anita Bryant had not visited this city in ’77. I know that’s an enormous leap, but I think that with Anita coming to town and giving us a clear target to organize an opposition to had an enormous effect on our ability to put together a robust movement that accomplished its goals.”
Houston Protest Photos. Rev. Troy Perry can be
seen in the photo below, on the right hand side.
On Queer Music Heritage the October 2012 show was a special edition on Songs About Anita Bryant, including the complete Ray Hill interview, and several interviews with some of the activists who helped make the protests happen, in Miami, Norfolk and Houston, along with historian James Sears and several of the artists talking about the songs Bryant inspired. Transcriptions of all interviews can be read on the script page.