“The Day It Snowed in Miami”

That’s the title of a great documentary recently aired on the local PBS station down here in South Florida co-produced by the station and the Miami Herald which examined in painful detail the 1977 battle in Miami for gay rights. Heading the opposition was Anita Bryant, a former beauty queen, sometime entertainer, and the ad spokesperson at the time for the Florida orange juice industry, who was successful in galvanizing what became the Religious Right to block the ordinance that would have given gays in Miami protection under the law against discrimination.

Ironically, Bryant solidified what was a very uncoordinated gay activist movement into a powerhouse that twenty years later got the ordinance approved and helped shape the gay rights movement nation-wide (The title refers to the fact that the day the ordinance was defeated in 1977, snow fell on Miami for the first time in recorded history. Bryant, BTW, lost her job as the orange juice lady when gays mounted a boycott of orange juice and the growers just didn’t want any more negative publicity.)

Fascinating was the archival footage of raids on Florida bars, news clips of witnesses at the public hearings denouncing gay as a “chosen” lifestyle, as if we entered a booth at twelve and a half and voted our sexual orientation, and interviews with the gay men and women who lived through those turbulent years and fought the good fight at risk of losing their jobs and being ostracized by society as some sadly were.

But I think the most telling – though not surprising – comment came from one of the warriors who today lectures gay youth and noted few know who Anita Bryant even was, and who think the free and breezy lifestyle we enjoy today always existed.

It reminds of the time one of my smarter students, working on an argumentative paper on gay marriage, came to me and commented that she was against same-sex unions since, after all, gays choose to be gay; or how many of my African American students were unaware that not so long ago there were colored restrooms and white restrooms and colored water fountains and white water fountains.

As I’ve said before, many of the gay youth of today have no idea what had come before and how many people fought and suffered to make today possible, from gay marriage right down to hooking up with somebody on Growl’r.

Even Anita Bryant’s adult son, interviewed for the doc, (Anita herself declined) decades after it all happened when he was just a kid, concluded, “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just in the DNA, just like God made us.”

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