For a time in American history, public enemy No.1 was a seemingly innocuous item:
But not just any orange juice: the juice that came from Florida. And thanks to the bigotry of Anita Bryant, her mission to “Save Our Children” turned the nation against the gay community.
The Oklahoma beauty queen turned singer became the face of Florida’s orange juice industry, starring in a number of commercials. With a bright smile, she sings tunes and portrays the American family gleefully enjoying orange juice with their breakfast. In one short, a woman tells Bryant she can hardly keep enough around the house!
Bryant took her stardom a step forward, using her fame to stand up for an issue close to her heart: protecting children from the scourge of homosexuals breaking apart the American way of life. When Miami-Dade County passed an ordinance protecting gay people from workplace discrimination in 1977, she created the Save Our Children campaign to overturn it.
And it worked — the ordinance was repealed with nearly 70 percent support. But Miami-Dade wasn’t the only county making headlines. Other Florida municipalities, including Winter Haven, Gainesville, and Bradenton were also passing anti-gay legislation. This was all in the midst of the equality movement, with the likes of Harvey Milk leading the charge for equal rights.
Protesters now speak out against Bryant and her mission the way activists did in those days: through boycotts. In 1955, black customers refused to ride buses in Montgomery County, as they were segregated. In the 1960s, people boycotted grapes to show their disapproval of the treatment of grape growers in California. Now, the gay community refuses to drink Florida orange juice.
The “gaycott” was strongest in San Francisco, the heart of the equality movement. At N’Touch, a gay bar in San Francisco, which has since closed, owners poured orange juice into the streets, according to Extra Crispy, a food publication by Time Inc. At the Tavern Guild, staff printed out signs on orange paper to hand out to area bars: “To promote human rights this establishment does not serve Florida orange juice or orange juice from concentrate.” Bars also stopped serving screwdriver cocktails — a mix of orange juice and vodka — or gave customers a discount if they brought their own oranges from home and squeezed them themselves.
But, they couldn’t be from Florida.
“God help you if you brought a bottle of orange juice that was from Florida,” Wayne Friday, a bartender at N’Touch, told Extra Crispy. “I’ve seen a bartender take it off the bar, look at the label, and pour it down the train.”
Ironically, in 1977, the citrus economy was hurting from a major freeze, the worst the state had seen in 15 years, according to the New York Times. In April 1977, the number of oranges picked was down 17 percent and represented a 28 percent loss of juice.
Orange juice is such a big part of Florida’s agricultural economy that the orange juice boycott has since revived. In 2013, in light of the controversial shooting of young black teen Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman, Martin Luther King III encouraged another boycott of the juice.
King said at the NAACP convention in Orlando in 2013, “The true way generally when people don't understand your plight is when you decide to exercise your buying power elsewhere.”