When I was a kid I was obsessed with The Golden Girls. But there was one line that I found particularly hilarious and although I didn’t know exactly what it meant, I thought it sounded like the funniest comeback ever.
“Excuse me for living Anita Bryant!”
In the Season 4, episode, “Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1” The caterer, who is definitely a stereotypical depiction of a gay man, but it makes sense here. At the end, he first references the 1958 film, I Want to Live!, starring Susan Hayward, which revolves around the story of a sex worker convicted of murder.
When Blanche says that he’s “ready to fly right outta here,” his “Well, excuse me for living, Anita Bryant!” retort becomes the punchline of the scene. This exchange humorously illustrates why Bryant was so reviled along with drawing attention to changing attitudes towards the LGBTQ community in society and popular culture.
It’s funny and so is her taking a pie in the face that lest we forget, Robert Whirry — a writer of the upcoming play Anita Bryant’s Playboy Interview, reminds us in an essay in The Advocate today: “she [Bryant] laid the groundwork for the modern religious right that planted the seeds of intolerance on school boards, city councils, and local and state ballots across the country — and that led to pronouncements that AIDS was a judgment from God when the epidemic struck. You can trace a blood-red line directly from Anita to the likes of Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, and the Tea Party in our own day. Echoes of the movement even resound in Donald Trump’s scapegoating of the menacing “other” in the form of immigrants and potential terrorists.”
— George (@GeorgeLovell3) October 14, 2019
According to Back2Stonewall: “Bryant [was] an American singer, former beauty queen, and pitch-woman for companies like Coke and Florida Orange Juice started the venomous ‘Save Our Children’ campaign against homosexuals in Dade County, Florida which spread throughout the nation and led to an upswing in violent attacks, including murder, against gay men and resulted in numerous cities denying or retracting gay and lesbian civil rights ordinances”
In 1977 Bryant said: “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. 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.” She also added that “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.
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 of Florida orange juice which she was a spokeswoman for. 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 and organizations to help fund their fight against Bryant and her campaign.
— Jive-Ass Mexican Fæg (@LAbarbearian) October 15, 2017
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 thanks to Harvey Milk, sprang up to defeat the initiative.
After the “pieing incident” the Florida orange juice boycott 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.
In June of 2010 smelling the money of the anti-LGBT groups of today Bryant returned to her roots and appeared at an anti-gay, anti atheist, and anti Muslim event sponsored by “Reclaiming America For Christ”
The unsung hero who threw the infamous pie, lifetime gay activist Thom Higgins was a founding member and officer of several gay organizations, including FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic
Expression), The Gay Imperative, and the Church of the Chosen People, a gay pagan religion established in 1975. He was also a member of Target City Coalition and the Cuban Refugee Task Force of Positively Gay.
Thom Higgins passed away November 10, 1994, in St. Paul, Minnesota.