Save Our Children, Inc. was a political coalition formed in 1977 in Miami, Florida to overturn a recently legislated county ordinance that banned discrimination in areas of housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. The coalition was publicly headed by celebrity singer Anita Bryant, who claimed the ordinance discriminated against her right to teach her children biblical morality. It was a well-organized campaign that initiated a bitter political fight between unprepared gay activists and highly motivated Christian fundamentalists. When the repeal of the ordinance went to a vote, it attracted the largest response of any special election in Dade County's history, passing by 70%.[note 1]
Save Our Children was the first organized opposition to the gay rights movement, whose beginnings were traced to the Stonewall riots in 1969. The defeat of the ordinance encouraged groups in other cities to attempt to overturn similar laws. In the next year voters in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wichita, Kansas, and Eugene, Oregon overturned ordinances in those cities, sharing many of the same campaign strategies that were used in Miami. Save Our Children was also involved in Seattle, Washington, where they were unsuccessful, and heavily influenced Proposition 6—a proposed state law in California that would have made the firing of openly gay public school employees mandatory—that was rejected by California voters in 1978.
Historians have since connected the success of Save Our Children with the organization of conservative Christian participation in political processes. Although forceful Christian involvement had not taken a widespread role in politics in the United States since 1925, within two years the Reverend Jerry Falwell developed a coalition of conservative religious groups named the Moral Majority that influenced the Republican Party to incorporate a social agenda in national politics. Homosexuality, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), abortion, and pornography were among the issues most central to the Moral Majority's priorities until it folded in 1989. For many gay men and lesbians, the surprise at the outcome of all the campaigns in 1977 and 1978 instilled a new determination and consolidated activism and communities in many cities where the gay community had not been politically active.
On January 18, 1977, the Dade County Commission approved a law that would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and public services. Commissioner Ruth Shack proposed the bill on December 7, 1976 at the request of a gay lobbying organization, named the Dade County Coalition for the Humanistic Rights of Gays, that was less than a year old. The group was headed by three gay activists: Jack Campbell, an owner of 40 gay bathhouses across the United States, political and gay activist Bob Basker, and Bob Kunst, a local publicist and enthusiast of the Human Potential Movement and proponent of sexual liberation.
Dade County ordinance 77-4
After the ordinance passed, over thirty conservative political professionals and ministers from various faiths met in Bryant and Green's home to discuss a plan to raise publicity and attempt to get at least 10,000 signatures on a petition to force the issue to be decided by a county voter referendum. They approved the name "Save Our Children, Inc.", and voted Bryant their president, Bob Green treasurer and a man named Robert Brake—a devout Catholic with a record of civil rights participation, but increasingly concerned with the liberalization of Miami city politics—its secretary. With the assistance of a Republican-affiliated advertising executive named Mike Thompson, the coalition eschewed subtlety. They held a press conference where Bryant held a pamphlet about homosexuality she claimed was being distributed at area high schools (a statement she later retracted), and said Dade County homosexuals "are trying to recruit our children into homosexuality". Far exceeding the required number of signatures, the coalition delivered more than 64,000 signatures within six weeks demanding a referendum vote, which the commission set for June 7, 1977.
The vote results in a special June election were overwhelming. It was the largest turnout in any special election in the history of Dade County. Voters supported repealing the gay rights ordinance by a margin of more than two to one. Bryant danced a jig when the response was announced, and told reporters "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 which attempt to legitimize a life style that is both perverse and dangerous". National Gay Task Force (NGTF) co-director Jean O'Leary said that the result was "all the evidence anyone could need of the extent and virulence of prejudice against lesbians and gay men in our society".
- The gay rights ordinance re-enacted by Dade County commissioners in 1998; it survived a repeal attempt by the Christian Coalition in 2003. (Days Without Sunshine: Anita Bryant's Anti-Gay Crusade, Stonewall Library and Archives. Retrieved on October 23, 2010.)
- "Bias Against Homosexuals is Outlawed in Miami", The New York Times (January 19, 1977), p. 14.
- Fejes, pp. 76, 94.
- Young, p. 46.
- Clendinen, p. 299.
- Ayres, B. Drummond, "Miami Votes 2 to 1 to Repeal Law Barring Bias Against Homosexuals", The New York Times, p. 23.
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