by TRACY BAIM
BY FAR THE WATERSHED EVENT FOR GAY rights in Chicago during the 1970s, still mentioned most often by local activists today, was Chicago's march against Anita Bryant on June 14, 1977. Bryant ignited a national firestorm after her successful opposition to a Dade County, Fla., law protecting gay people, and the national gay movement became galvanized in protest.
Bryant was a former Miss Oklahoma, a singer, and a spokesperson for Florida orange juice who was outspoken in her anti-gay rhetoric. Her highly publicized homophobic remarks sparked activists to launch a successful orange-juice boycott and motivated gays in a way that the anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps has done in more recent years. She was scheduled to speak that evening at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., and activists including Chuck Renslow helped organize the opposition. "I got an anonymous call that day from a woman who worked at the limousine company driving Anita," Renslow recalled in 2008. "She was the dispatcher, and she told me where and when Anita would be arriving, so that we could plan our pickets. She said we have to stick together."
Organizers said an estimated 5,000 gays and lesbians circled Medinah Temple (police said 2,000), called together by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago and the Committee for Gay Rights. Although the event had been sold out, it was estimated that only about one-third showed up to hear Bryant. Only a few arrests were recorded.
"Media coverage of the march was extensive, with front-page. coverage in the daily newspapers as well as on several television stations," said veteran Pride Parade organizer Rich Pfeiffer in 2008. "Two weeks later, the annual Pride Parade with the theme 'Gays and Lesbians in History' saw an increase in participants as well as spectators, it was a fitting theme because history was made that night at the Medinah Temple with the largest GLBT demonstration to that date in Chicago history.
At 9 p.m., protesters marched to Pioneer Court, plaza south of the Chicago Tribune building, where speakers addressed 'the crowd under Tribune windows. 'Anita Bryant is not our enemy; she only represents the enemy," said GayLife Publisher Grant Ford in his newspaper's June 24 edition. "This is only the first time we will meet like this. All our good works will be undone if we go home tonight and forget that we will march again and again and again, until we have our rights. We will be free.”
More than 30 years later, those at the event are still inspired by what it meant for the Chicago gay and lesbian community.
The Fruits of Hate Speech: Anita is Protested, Excerpt from Out and Proud in Chicago, Tracy Baim, Editor, page 120, 2008, Surrey Books.