Tony's Talks: ‘Ending Anita’

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Author Tony Adams talks about his new book, gay activism, assimilation, and the post-gay world we are entering

Why did I write “Ending Anita”? As a journalist, I choose to celebrate people who do good things. When I met Aaron and Lee at Island House in Key West, I saw that they were gentlemen who might easily be swallowed up and hidden by their own headlines. That would have been a loss for Florida and LGBT young people who need role models for their activism.

I don’t talk much about Anita Bryant in “Ending Anita,” because I have never been able to interview her, and because I want to shrink her legacy rather than magnify it. She is a former beauty queen, former singer and former face of the Florida Citrus Commission who opposed gay rights in 1977 Miami by inciting fear and panic in the hearts of religious people. We were not her only target. She fought anything that didn’t fit her definition of holy, and she protested anything she felt was scandalous.

Sound familiar?

Today there are “Control Queen” versions of Anita Bryant at work in politics, still trying to do the same damn thing. They say they want “religious freedom” but they really want to put their noses in your bedroom and direct your actions. Like little forest fires, they have to be stomped out before they can grow to cause serious damage. It took a few decades to extinguish the rage of Anita Bryant, and we still have to watch those embers.

What did I really want to say by writing “Ending Anita”?

Organized LGBT activism, like our major political parties, needs to be recast to address the ongoing battle for gay rights. The victory of Aaron and Lee is a blueprint for new gay activism. The newest LGBT generation has just been jolted awake by the horrific presidential election. They are scrambling to mobilize in new ways because the old ways have failed. When the newest generation of queer kids reads this book, they will know what to do and we can rest a little bit easier about our future. That is why I hope their friends and families buy “Ending Anita” for them!

Writing this book was a revelation about the future of gay culture! My preface to “Ending Anita” is called “The Death of Fabulous.” In it, I talk about going to Washington DC with Aaron and Lee for the Supreme Court hearings. That is where I discovered that my sense of being gay was very different from theirs. I had to come to terms with this. While I believe we should have equal rights, I think it leads to a day when there will be no “gay" and no “straight,” a day when we will all be just points on the full spectrum of fluid personal choice. I worry a lot about assimilation. I don’t want to look and act like everyone around me. I don’t want to fit in, but I can feel it happening. Writing “Ending Anita” helped me embrace the inevitable post-gay future. At least, I worry less about it, having met Aaron, Lee and their friends in Key West.

Anthony Adams

https://www.amazon.com/Ending-Anita-Bartenders-Marriage-Equality/dp/0692741887/

Book Description on Amazon.com

Ending Anita” is the story of Aaron Huntsman and Lee Jones, the two gay, outspoken and impatient blue-collar Key West bartenders with no experience as activists who won gay marriage for Florida.

Any online search for information about gay marriage (marriage equality) in Florida will get you the dates, court cases and rulings, but “Ending Anita” introduces you to the people behind the headlines.

In addition to the Florida plaintiffs Aaron and Lee, you will meet the straight, Republican Roman Catholic mother who became their brilliant lawyer and then their friend. You will meet the gay judge who was slated to hear their case but was suspiciously chased off the bench because of his profile on a gay hook-up site. You will meet the gay former Marine with experience in the Hollywood film industry who helped guide them through the media scrutiny that almost drowned them during their suit. You will meet the close-knit circle of loyal and protective Conch (Key West) friends who stood with Aaron and Lee in their battle for justice.

Ending Anita” is also about the fact that most of the men at the center of Aaron and Lee’s case are HIV-positive. They courageously chose to disclose rather than hide this fact. Because of their openness and candor, the stigma of HIV/AIDS is one step closer to elimination. They could have chosen to live their lives at the perpetual Happy Hour that is Key West. Instead, they went to work, changing the course of history and making life in Florida better for everyone.

Gay marriage (marriage equality) is now the law of the land thanks to the Supreme Court. That victory was actually earned by LGBT activists on the state-level where they fought against anti-gay laws treating them as second-class citizens. Florida in particular was beset by homophobic laws spawned by Anita Bryant’s Miami-based anti-gay fear mongering of 1977. Florida public sentiment has changed in favor of LGBT rights, but anti-gay politicians did not want those laws dropped.

Aaron and Lee, with no political or legal experience, were told they were in over their heads. This did not stop them.

Gay visibility is at the root of LGBT acceptance. A life in the closet never won a single battle for equality. The Stonewall riots of 1969 mobilized the LGBT community, forced the world to see them clearly and sent them into the streets demanding justice. Stonewall ignited the first generation of activists who paved the way for marriage equality. Aaron and Lee were born post-Stonewall! Despite several decades of LGBT progress, when they went to their County Clerk’s office to request a marriage license, they were declined. “Ending Anita” is the story of their winning fight against that discrimination.

For students of Florida history, “Ending Anita” contains a marriage equality timeline, a history of gay Florida and a history of gay Key West. The addenda include the Huntsman v. Heavilin suit, the court transcript of the hearing and the text of Judge Garcia’s ruling.

For more information, go to EndingAnita.com