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Remembering Anita Bryant and 'Orange Tuesday'
By Eric Holeman
2018-06-20

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On June 7, 1977, voters in Dade County, Florida overwhelmingly voted to repeal the county's recently passed gay-rights ordinance, concluding a campaign that put gay rights—and gay people—on the evening news and daily newspapers across the country.

Chicago photographer Jerry Pritikin lived in San Francisco at the time, and remembered how the Florida election was a wake-up call for gay-rights activists across the country.

He'd moved there for the relative freedom it offered, but even San Francisco wasn't always tolerant.

"It was a very conservative city then," Pritikin said. "Most people think of it as a liberal city, but it wasn't. It had corrupt police, corrupt government, corrupt officials. Not liberal at all. It was more open than Chicago, but still conservative." Before gay neighborhoods blossomed, bars were discreetly hidden among docks and warehouses. "Not out in the open like they are now."

As closet doors were opened, activists lobbied for legal protections across the country. Dade County adapted its anti-discrimination ordinance in December, 1976.

The backlash was immediate and fierce. Petitions were circulated, and a special election to repeal the ordinance was scheduled for the following June. The anti-gay forces found a champion in Anita Bryant, a former Miss Oklahoma who was known for her TV commercials for Florida Orange Juice.

Bryant's celebrity brought national attention to the fight for gay rights. "It was a big deal," recalled Pritikin. "We'd heard about the Miami fight. Anita Bryant was famous. Everybody knew her TV ads for orange juice, and then she became famous as the face of the anti-gay movement. I remember hearing her on the radio, singing on the radio, sometimes. And her face was all over the TV from the juice commercials."

Even though Bryant campaigned against gay rights, her celebrity helped grow gay activism, Pritikin said. "Anita made the gay-rights movement a national story. She put the movement in the gay-rights movement. All segments of the movement came together because of her. She was the best thing that happened to the gay community."

On the day of the vote, Pritikin recalled the mood in San Francisco. The repeal vote was scheduled for June 7, 1977. The election was 3,000 miles and three time zones away.

"When the polls closed in Florida, it was only 4 or 5 p.m. in San Francisco. People were still getting off of work. A lot of gay guys were in the habit of stopping at a local bar for a drink on their way home."

To quench their thirst? "They were hoping to get lucky, maybe."

But this time was different. "The TV said the early ballots were in, and it didn't look good for the repeal." Pritikin grabbed his camera and headed for the Castro.

"I didn't live far away, but there were already a lot of people coming down to the Castro. … They didn't quite know what to make of this, yet. They were a little angry and a little nervous. The mood was confused."

Harvey Milk, a camera store owner who had run for city council, addressed the crowd.

When the crowd moved to the subway station at Castro and Market streets, Pritikin spotted television cameras. "There was one TV crew I saw along the way, from Channel 2 in San Francisco.

Pritikin asked the reporter if he had a name for the lead-in. He said no; Pritikin offered a suggestion: "'Call it Orange Tuesday,' I shouted. He pointed at me and smiled. The evening news at 11 ran with it."

As the crowd grew, Milk urged the crowd to march along Market Street to downtown San Francisco. Pritikin followed with his camera. "We went by City Hall and continued over past Nob Hill and ended up in Union Square. When they arrived at the square, Harvey was the only one with a bullhorn, but he let others use it to make their speeches too."

As he spoke, Pritikin snapped a photo of Milk with the bullhorn.

"I only got two photos of Harvey that night. I only had one roll of film to work with. It ended before midnight. I took the film to a contact at AP, I told him it had some pictures he could use. The bureau chief said it was only a local story, and there wouldn't be any national interest. I said it was a response to a local story 3,000 miles away, but with a march of 5,000 people, that made it a national story."

Papers across the country ran the photo. The San Francisco Examiner put it on the front page, but with no credit to the photographer. "Back then you didn't get your name on a wire service story unless you shot an aeroplane falling from the sky," Pritikin explained.

Anger over the ordinance battle continued into San Francisco's pride march later that month. One group carried five poster-sized photos that symbolized bigots throughout history. The photos showed Hitler, a burning cross, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Josef Stalin, and in the center, the smiling face of Anita Bryant.

Harvey Milk would go on to win election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors later that year. Pritikin continued to photograph him until Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in November 1978.

Anita Bryant continued to campaign against gay rights for several years, attracting admirers and detractors. Pritikin honored her with a T-shirt that cheekily declared "Anita Bryant's husband is a HOMO SAPIEN."


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